nurturing thursdays: quality time…lasts forever

It’s nice being a normal family once again, doing simple things together. 

My husband and daughter are having a rare father-daughter day. They visited the Motor Vehicle Licensing department to switch her driver’s license over to Washington State. Upon entering, they were pleasantly surprised to find they were the only customers. When asked how they could be helped, my husband replied that this was the first time he’d ever seen a government licensing department empty, especially at 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning. The ladies behind the counter chuckled.

Expecting to wait an inordinate amount of time, my husband and daughter found themselves with hours to kill before seeing our tax accountant. Without me offering a myriad of suggestions, they opted to have a nice breakfast nearer the accountant’s office. That ate up an hour. When I called to see how they were doing, they had another couple of hours to waste. They spent it walking around the few small shops in the area. Since both had their Nooks, they figured they’d read or play games to while away the remaining time.

Our family is fortunate to spend so much quality time with one another. It’s been the driving force in our lives. Or I should say…in my life.

Not having had a father, and having to share my mom’s attention with so many siblings while she was our sole breadwinner, meant I clung to whatever thread of stability I could find.

Children crave stability. Without it, they flounder as adults.

With my husband and daughter, I found the home I’d been without for so long. Happily, we will always love and support one another through all the changes life still has in store for us.

Last night I learned from an older brother that our eldest brother is dying. 

I remember Stanley as being shy and gentle, with a nice laugh, and a tall, lanky frame. From what I can recall, he never lacked for female companionship. I think he had 3 wives and just as many children. I can’t be sure because I rarely saw him or them. Sadly, we were worlds apart as to…where we lived…and our life experiences. Bridging the gap never seemed a possibility because he was such a loner.

Nonetheless, I will always remember my brother affectionately for trying to help mend a broken bridge between another sibling and myself. The moment was awkward and she never took up the challenge to right things between us. Being the youngest, and unable to drum up the courage to speak of the past hurt, I clung to my husband seated beside me and kept my head lowered until the moment past. 

Broken families beget broken people who find better lives for themselves…

…and never look back with regret or remorse or bitterness…

……….hugmamma.IMG_1997

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nurturing thursdays: “you’re a sweetheart!”

Reading that phrase, didn’t you get a warm fuzzy feeling in your navel?

I know I get a lift when someone compliments me. Not so much with how I’m dressed. I’ve gotten beyond outer appearances since becoming a senior. After all, clothes don’t make a person. Thank goodness! 

And yet, I must confess to still getting a boost when someone notices that I’ve been to my hairdresser. I look perkier after a henna rinse and a haircut. After all, a woman’s hair is her crowning glory, and if she needs a little outside help now and then, I say “What the hey! Go for it!”

However, such vain glory is nothing in comparison to being warmly acknowledged for something I’ve done for someone else.

Think of it.

A compliment is so easily spoken. If it’s on the tip of your tongue..don’t hold back. What’s the worse that could happen? You get a strange look?

In all my years of handing out compliments left, right, and in-between…I’ve never ever had the recipient look at me as if to say “Are you nuts?”

Quite the contrary! My words of praise or empathy have always been met with surprised happiness. It’s as though I’ve lit a rocket under the person’s feet, lifting him skywards into the clouds.

My husband and daughter are so use to my telling complete strangers…”You’re beautiful!”…or “You’re  such a sweetheart!”…or “Thank you so much! You just made my day!”

Whatever’s appropriate to the occasion, I never hesitate to put my feelings out there. 

The reaction to my compliments are so worth any effort. Although there’s really no effort to letting folks know how swell they are. 

Their smiles and sparkling eyes let me know I’ve made their day, whether it’s a waiter…a receptionist…a customer service rep…a salesperson…a store manager…a bank teller.  

Think of it as gift-giving year round. 

We needn’t wait until a special occasion to give the gift of ourselves. It’s more precious than a store bought one, no matter how beautifully wrapped.

Santa really does reside in each and every one of us.

A gift of fellowship is at our fingertips…to give away as often as we wish.

So, go ahead…compliment someone!

…make their day…and yours!

………hugmamma.

 

 

you should…talk to strangers

Not something you often hear, especially from a mom who’s been very protective of her only child, even now that she’s 27.

While NOT talking to strangers is still a good idea for youngsters, doing just the opposite might be exactly what the doctor orders for our ailing adult society.March 2011A 00059

Remaining clueless about one another will prove to be humanity’s death knell. Wearing blinders isolates us from the possibilities. And without them, what kind of hope is there for our future? Life offers no guarantees EXCEPT that we’re all in it for the long haul…until death do us part. So why not let your guard down and reach out to someone…as often as you can.

March 2011A 00061Reaching out to others who reach right back…totally makes my day.

My insatiable curiosity, and gift for gab, make it impossible for me not to want to know… “Whaaas up?” So when an idea takes hold, I usually follow its lead.

Today, while enjoying a celebration of my native Hawaiian culture at a local retailer, I happened upon an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair. He reminded me of a famous entertainer my husband and I had taken our parents to see a few times when we were visiting the islands. Rather than drop the thought, I stopped to ask the woman sitting next to him if he was from Hawaii. It turned out that they were husband and wife and were originally from Honolulu. Until moving to Seattle recently, they had lived in Nevada for more than 20 years.

Mr. Cummings was from the same town as my husband, and his grandfather had been in law enforcement in my hometown…before my time, obviously, since Mr. Cummings looked to be in his 70s, or perhaps 80s. Small, small world…getting smaller every day.

It felt so natural to chat and laugh with total strangers who felt, if only for a few moments, like friends of the family.

I can’t recall ever being rebuffed when I’ve extended myself in a gesture of friendliness. I can only remember being repaid in kind. My experiences have encouraged me…

…to talk to strangers…

………hugmamma. March 2011A 00046

365 photo challenge: fancy

Venice provided a treasure trove of handicrafts by the locals. The fanciest among them were, of course, the masks. They were gorgeous! Unfortunately photographs were not allowed to be snapped in some of the more elaborate shops…for fear of copycat creations. Of course I understood. But a couple of crafters were more than agreeable to my request. In fact, I wrote of my experience with one of the young women with whom I had an immediate connection. My ballerina daughter, for whom I was purchasing a mask, was the common denominator. You can read about my affection for the charming lady with the pointe shoes in a venetian stranger at https://hugmamma.wordpress.com/2010/08/08/a-venetian-stranger/


…venetian fancy…for your viewing pleasure………hugmamma.

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don’t talk…to strangers

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Image by caribb via Flickr

A stranger, seated next to a young girl on an airplane, turned to her and said, “Let’s talk. I’ve heard that flights go faster if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passengers.”

The young girl, an avid reader who had just opened her book, Too Much Stuff, closed it slowly and said to the stranger, “What would you like to talk about?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said the stranger.  “How about nuclear power?”

“OK,” she said. “That could be an interesting topic.  But first let me ask you a question.  A horse, a cow, and a deer all eat the same stuff – grass – yet a deer excretes little pellets, while a cow turns out a flat patty, and a horse produces clumps of dried grass. Why do you suppose that is?”

The stranger, visibly surprised by the young girl’s intelligence, thinks about it and says, “Hmm, I have no idea.”

To which the future Op-Ed contributor replies, “Do you really feel qualified to discuss nuclear power when you don’t know shit?”

Source:  e-mail from an unknown author, edited

…a good chuckle now and then…this one from blogging friend http://nrhatch.wordpress.com ………hugmamma.

one family’s story, japan

TV news reports are jam-packed with videos of the destruction in Japan, including snippets of interviews with those in the midst of it all. Somehow viewing the catastrophe on such a large-scale makes it impersonal, like it’s happening over there, not here. We breathe a collective sigh of relief, and go about our business. I pause every now and then unable to wrap my brain around the fact that under the same blue sky, someone in Japan is desperately trying to hang onto any visible shred of hope that she, and her family, will once again live a normal life, and here I am, living a normal life. “There but for the grace of God…”

Rather than try to retell the story of Hideo Higuchi and his family, I’m giving writer Eric Bellman that privilege since he authored “Winding Road to Reunion Bridges Three Generations,” which appeared in today’s Wall Street Journal

Ishinomaki city miyagi pref

Image via Wikipedia

ISHINOMAKI, Japan–Hideo Higuchi and his wife sat in their truck, staring at the long lake in front of them. Beneath was the road to their daughter’s home.

The Higuchi’s hadn’t heard from her since Friday’s earthquake and tsunami. Water and debris had blocked the road into town. Phone networks remained down. So when floodwaters receded enough Tuesday to let them through, the couple rushed to Ishinomaki on Japan’s devastated eastern coast, where their daughter lived with her husband and three sons.

“I am not from here,” said the 70-year-old rice farmer, as his bloodshot eyes tried to measure whether his boxy white truck could make it through the knee-deep water. “I don’t know any other way around.”

Flag of Ishinomaki, Miyagi

Image via Wikipedia

“What is the damage like in Ishinomaki?” his wife, Sayono, 68, anxiously asked a stranger. The Higuchis live 15 miles inland from Ishinomaki, in a small city shaken by the earthquake but unaffected by the tsunami.

The Higuchis turned their truck around. The bed of the Isuzu, emptied of the usual farming equipment, held a cardboard box of food and drinks. They were for their daughter’s family, if the family could be found.

The couple decided to try to find the primary school of their three grandsons–Ryo, 12, and the 10-year-old twins, Chihiro and Masaki. In many small towns like this one, schools are often the tallest buildings and likeliest emergency shelters.

But the Higuchis weren’t sure of the school’s name. Pointing to a map, Mr. Higuchi asked people on the street. “Is there a grade school around here? Is it an evacuation center?”

Port ishinomaki miyagi pref

Image via Wikipedia

They wound through the narrow back streets of Ishinomaki, a town of 164,000 people. On the roadsides were sights rarely seen in Japan: men in military fatigues directing traffic, girls with plastic bags taped over their sneakers, old men grilling a fish over a fire in an oil can. A middle-aged woman, bowing with a particularly Japanese shame at the thought of inconveniencing a stranger, held a sign: “Please give me a ride to Watanoha.”

Mr. Higuchi stepped out of his truck and adjusted his baseball cap as he talked to some neighborhood boys. The grade school was underwater, the boys said. People there might have been taken out by helicopter.

The couple found the middle school. To search the four floors of evacuees, they split up. Each room had a roster pinned outside the door, naming the people who slept there and their age. Mr. Higuchi, with thick glasses and poor eyesight, went through more than 10 rosters.

“Oikawa…Oikawa…Oikawa,” he said repeating the married name of his daughter, Miyuki. There are a lot of Oikawas here, so his crooked fingers paused often as he went down the lists.

When Mr. Higuchi asked a cluster of kids sitting near a third-floor window if there was a grade school nearby, they answered obediently. “See that yellow building with a green roof? It’s behind there,” one boy said.

Children in Kimono, circa 1960s. In Ishinomaki...

Image via Wikipedia

Beyond the yellow building was the grade school. It wasn’t underwater. It was eerily quiet. There were evacuees on the third floor, the Higuchis were told. The couple quickly walked up the steps, moving faster than they had all day. Before she finished sliding open the first classroom door, Ms. Higuchi gasped. “Ryo!” She waved her hand, apparently reluctant to enter the room. “Ryo, come here.”

It was her grandson. In the room, also, were their son-in-law’s parents. “You’re all right!” they shouted at the Higuchis.

Three adults, in a display of emotion seldom seen in Japan, jumped up and down holding hands, hugged and cried. The three grandsons were then dragged into the group hugs.

The Higuchis learned their daughter’s home had been ruined by the tsunami shortly after their daughter, the only one home at the time of the earthquake, evacuated and met the rest of her family at the school. The daughter and her husband were there now, seeing if any of their belongings were salvageable. “Thank God, thank God,” the four grandparents repeated, wiping away tears and smiling.

Mr. Higuchi brought his eldest grandson down to the truck to give him one of his favorite drinks. Ryo, wearing the bright blue gym uniform he was wearing when the earthquake hit Friday, started to sip.

“We will go meet our daughter now,” said Mr. Higuchi. Asked if he knew the way, he said, “I’m OK now. My grandson is here.”

postaday 2011 topic: best road trip

A couple of years ago I was part of a totally unexpected road trip with 3 strangers, all of us in the same “boat” when Southwest cancelled our connecting flights. All anxious to get to our destinations, mine being my daughter’s home, an hour away by air. Not one for hitch-hiking, but wanting to see her smiling face after a 5 hour flight, I threw caution to the wind. Telling my hubby, “I’m catching a ride with Larry. Talk to you later.” I happily drove off with my newfound companions, a woman, and 2 men.

God blessed our road trip because our personalities gelled. We were all soft-spoken, laughing quietly at each other’s jokes, commiserating about jobs and families. We stopped enroute for a quick bite, but hurriedly continued on our way.

Arriving at the airport where we should’ve landed, I tried to press $20 into Larry’s hand for having rented the car. He refused, saying our companionship was more than compensation on what would have been a long, solitary, 5 hour ride to his home. I hugged him, tears welling  in my eyes because I’d been helped by a truly Good Samaritan. I will never forget his kindness in helping me get to my daughter, who likened the trip to the mom in “Home Alone 2,” when she hitchiked with musicians to get home to her son, Kevin. 

good people happen when you least expect them…hugmamma. :)

bilingual, “something in common”

Great news! My good friend Becky (see “coffee with friends, so much more than” posted on 8/18/10), a southern woman with a French drawl, has connected with “My Enlglish Thoughts” on her blog. It’s like a friendship made in international heaven.

Becky has studied French for years, having traveled to that country for pleasure many times. During one of her more recent visits to the countryside, she spent a month living among the natives. That’s the only way to explore another culture, immersing oneself into its daily offerings. Needless to say Becky speaks the language fluently, even attending a luncheon at which she and her fellow students cooked the entire meal while conversing throughout in French. I think I’d have had indigestion, and eaten very little, a good thing for weight loss.

Obviously Becky and “My English Thoughts” will contribute to one another’s increased understanding of two, very different cultures. Especially as I indicated, my friend Becky has a “genteel,” southern perspective about life in America. And I love her for it.

hugs for 2 friends…who are now friends…hugmamma.

valentine sentiments, a lifelong romance

After nearly 41 years of marriage, what can my husband do that still “makes my heart sing?” The quick answer is “give me a musical greeting card that plays ‘WILD THING, you make my heart sing, you make everything…groovy!’ “ Normally conservative, he’s a man of few words. As college valedictorian my husband’s speech consisted of 3 words, “Silence is golden.” As you can see, my husband has a “funny bone.” His humor can be sweet as well. Oh he can tease me endlessly, after all he’s the eldest of 12 and I’m the youngest of 9. But in unexpected moments, he surprises me with the smallest gesture that melts my heart and makes me giggle, like the young woman I was when we first met 44 years ago.

A lifetime of shared memories, of valleys and peaks, of maturing from 17-year-olds with “butterflies in our stomachs,” to seniors purchasing discount tickets and munching popcorn from a shared bag at Regal Cinema. How did we continue holding tight to one another’s hands, so certain we were a good match? I don’t think we knew for sure. Who does? 

It’s always amazed me how complete strangers, foreign to each other in every way, including the blood coursing through their veins, can cleave to one another as is expected when they are pronounced man and wife. That has got to be the one overriding “APT,” or “automatic positive thought” they must fight to keep for the rest of their lives. I can only imagine the civil wars that are waged within marriages between that one “APT” and the overwhelming army of  “ANTS” or “automatic negative thoughts” that bombard married persons every day.

I can only answer for myself that 41 years together has made my husband and me believers in the same faith, if you will. Yes, we are both Catholics, but our faith in each other is more profound than religion. I’ve heard it said, where I don’t remember, those whom we love most and who favor us with the same, affirm who we are. They are the passports for our earthly existence, and we for theirs. In an episode of  “I Love Lucy,” the Ricardos and the Mertzes satisfied the Passport Bureau requirement when they all acknowledged knowing one another, thus enabling them to travel abroad. If not for those who testify to our existence in their lives, we might only be murky shadows, in others’ collective memories. Vague memories which might include “Oh yeah, I remember her. Wasn’t she in our graduating class?” or “He was such a loner. Did he ever date? Did he marry?”

Looking into my husband’s eyes all these years, I’ve seen a “diamond in the rough” looking back at me. His love and unwavering commitment has helped me slowly evolve into the brilliant gem I am today. Light may not bounce off gray hairs, as it once did when it shimmered against dark locks, long ago. But the heart that beats within, remains the same. It still skips a beat when my husband walks through the door, after a long day’s work. Just as it did when I saw the boyfriend who resembled a young Elvis, stride through the front doors of my college residence, coming to collect me for a date.

Maybe my husband heard my beating heart when we were young. These days I might have to amplify the sound slightly. We’re both growing older, together. A funny card and a box of old-fashion candy hearts inscribed with sayings, reminds me that our romance is ageless. While the inscriptions are not as endearing as they once were, I selected a few which held special meaning…”call me, hold hands, soul mate,” representative of our good “young” days. “Shake it, boogie, oxox” are my hope for our lives going forward. One very special candy heart is inscribed “angel.” Our daughter was a gift after 16 childless years. I’m sure God sent us one of his own… to complete our marriage.

treasuring reminders… of priceless sentiments…hugmamma.         

“hugmamma,” where from

Thought I’d explain the choice of “hugmamma,” as my username. Have had viewers to this blog who may have visited, not understanding its content. Among other things, my primary goal is to share information that might be useful in parenting, in finding solace, in looking for spirituality, as well as for practical purposes like recipes, medical tips, books to read. 

“Hugmamma” was derived from an 80’s or 90’s children’s TV series featuring a dinosaur family. One day my daughter and I had been reminiscing about the show, during the preliminary stages of my decision to blog. We were laughing about the antics of the baby dinosaur who always reminded her mama and papa to “Hugga the baby.” The proverbial “light bulb” moment occurred. And so the name was born, ” hugga the mamma,” which was my username on another blog site, which quickly evolved into “hugmamma” on a second site, which I retained in this, my final attempt at blogging. 

As I’ve been writing, I noticed that many of my blogs dealt with “parenting,” probably because it’s an issue near and dear to me. As a result “hugmamma” took on a second, more spiritual significance, it became an homage to my mother whom I always called “mamma.” She was perhaps the stereotypical Hawaiian in her warmth and friendliness towards all. Her ready smile and hardy laughter greeted friends, as well as strangers. She always lent a sympathetic ear, and offered heartfelt advice, genuine tears flowing on occasion. She really did exemplify the “Aloha Spirit.” 

“Hugmamma” may have originated as the result of a child’s show, but its use has taken on a sweeter, more personal representation. For good or bad, I believe daughters become their mothers, for they are our first role models. While she was not perfect, for she had human failings, my mom exemplified someone who cared about others, a true Christian at heart. She left me that legacy, and I hope I can pass it along to my daughter, a generational gift to be shared.

hugs for…my mama…hugmamma.

marriage, the “give and take”

How do couples rack up years of marriage, celebrating anniversaries of 10 years, 25 years, 50 years? I think it takes a great ATTENTION TO DETAIL, to those moments which demonstrate love and concern for the other person.

Small, seemingly insignificant things can make or break a marriage. Does he snore? Does she nag? Does he leave the toilet lid raised? Does she use his razor to shave her legs? Is he a workaholic? Is she a spendthrift? Then, of course, there are the idiosyncrasies unique to each married couple.

My husband is the oldest of 12, I, the youngest of 9. Being from either end of the lineup of children, seems to simplify the dynamics of a relationship. For the most part I’m not leading, and he’s not following. But then when it involves running the household, I’m always leading, he’s always following. I say “Can you empty the garbage?” He says “Yes, dear.” Half-an-hour later I say “Did you empty the garbage?” To which he replies “Not yet.” Hours later with the garbage still not emptied, I decide to drop the matter. I’m not up to going downstairs and out into the garage now either.

Climbing into bed with my husband already snoring, I screw in my ear plugs, settle a pillow down the middle of the bed between us, turn off the light, and wait for sleep to come. I snuggle down into the covers and pull the pillow between us closer to my face, partially covering it. I breathe deeply, aiming for relaxation. Still focused upon the snores emanating from my husband, I reach over the pillow, gently massaging his back between the shoulder blades. It’s enough to rouse him, so that he moves his head further up onto his own pillow. This closes his lips and the snoring stops, temporarily. I may have to repeat the massages a few more times. Most times I eventually fall asleep. On the rare occasion that I can’t sleep, and I have an appointment to keep the next day, I’ll wake my husband and ask him to move to our daughter’s old bedroom. Drowsily, he consents. Grateful, I accompany him next door, settling him into bed and switching off the lights. Smiling to myself in the darkness of our bedroom, I remove the ear plugs and take deep breaths, relaxing while I drift off to sleep. As I do, I can hear faint sounds of snoring resonating through the wall. Sighing to myself, I’m just grateful he’s not “sawing wood” in my ears.

My husband awakes at dawn, fiddles at his computer keyboard, feeds the cats, walks the dog, gets ready for work, and downs a cup of green tea along with a bite to eat. Before leaving for work, he generously turns on my computer, setting up AOL.

At night after eating the dinner I’ve prepared, my husband relaxes stretched out on the couch in front of the TV, half-watching it while reading his e-book. I gather the dishes and wine glasses, putting them into the dish washer, tidy the counters, clean the grit off the stove’s glass top, wash pots and pans, and toss accumulated scraps of food from the sink into the recycled garbage. Before heading off to blog, I offer to get my husband dessert, if we have any.

It’s taken 40 years of honing our skills as to the give and take of being married to one another. We’re no longer compelled to “hang tough” in battling over every inch of common ground we share. When we were young and unsure of ourselves, and each other, we would revert to being 2 strangers trying to cohabit. But allowing ourselves the time to mature and grow old together, has made the “give and take” of married life not so hard to give, and take, after all.

Hugs are good too, lots of hugs…hugmamma.

good samaritan #2

I’ve been encouraged by a friend to share uplifting stories about “good samaritans,” since they’re not reported as widely as news detailing human frailty and immorality. 

On the local news tonight there was a story about a dog that had been badly mistreated by strangers. It seems they had wound rip cords around a front leg and a hind leg. When discovered, the one on the front leg was able to be removed; unfortunately the other had been wound so tightly, that the hind leg was irreparable and had to be amputated. Not having the funds, the dog’s owners tried raising the money by selling off items that were personal treasures. The mother sold her wedding ring, saying it was worth less than the canine companion who greeted her when she walked through the door, and who accompanied her when she went swimming. The son, 9 or 10 years old, peddled his most popular video games door to door in his neighborhood.

Hearing the plight of the dog and its owners on the news, callers from around the country rang the vet performing the surgery, offering donations to cover the $3,000 price tag.

small story, big reward…hugmamma.

a venetian stranger

Remember the advice you heard growing up “Don’t hitch rides.” and “Don’t talk to strangers.”  Well, I’ve done both. (Read my posts “a ride with strangers” and “attitude adjustment.”) Of course I didn’t “throw caution to the wind” until I was older, much older. Somehow it didn’t occur to me that I’d be taken advantage of; I was plump, graying, and sagging… just a little. Aren’t those weapons enough to keep the crazies at bay? Although these days I’m not so certain. Nonetheless I continue to enjoy speaking with strangers. As for riding with them, it depends on how desperate I am to see my daughter. Hopefully, I won’t need to “test those waters” again. I can’t imagine that a second experience could be more amazing than my first.

During our trip to Venice, I had one of the warmest encounters with a total stranger. Having left St. Mark’s Square after a couple of very informative, very historical tours of St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, we meandered through the small, back streets surrounding the Square. We were in search of a couple of shops recommended by Rick Steves in “Venice 2008.” On the hunt for a gift for one of my daughter’s male dancer friends, I found “…two fascinating mask and costume shops. The Ca’ del Sol… and Atelier Marega…” While I didn’t purchase a mask from either, I did wander through both, “oohs” and “aahs” spewing forth. The only other time I’d seen a proliferation of masks was in American theme parks, like Disneyland and Busch Gardens. And believe me, they’re not the same.

Venetian masks are serious business.  “In the 1700s, when Venice was Europe’s party town, masks were popular–sometimes even mandatory–to preserve the anonymity of nobles doing things forbidden back home. At Carnevalle (the weeks-long mardi Gras leading up to Lent), everyone wore masks. The most popular were based on characters from the Low-brow comedic theater called Commedia dell’Arte. We all know Harlequin (simple, Lone Ranger-type masks), but there were also long-nosed masks for the hypocritical plague doctor, pretty Columina masks, and so on. Masks are made with the simple technique of papier-mache. You make a mold of clay, smear it with Vaseline (to make it easy to remove the finished mask), then create the mask by draping layers of paper and glue atop the clay mold.” Perhaps I should have kept up mask-making when I left kindergarten. Maybe then I wouldn’t be here attempting to eke out a small income from writing. But it’s better I do what I do best, and leave mask-making to those for whom it is obviously a passion. I found such a person in Barbara Lizza.

Being too overwhelmed by the tremendous inventory of beautiful masks in the shops recommended by Steves,  I wandered in and out of smaller ones. The offerings were fewer, but no less gorgeous. Unable to commit, I asked my husband to continue on and scope out more shops, while I tried to make up my mind in the ones at hand. A few minutes later he returned saying there were no others across the small bridge just ahead. Returning to a tiny shop where I’d been earlier, I was pleased to be the only customer. Moving about more easily than before I admired masks resembling story book animals, hanging from the low overhead beams. They were so charming in their pastel shades, a frog, a pig, an alligator, a rooster, among others. Assuring myself they were probably pricey and inappropriate for dancers in their mid-20’s, I pressed on in my search for the right mask. Sitting on a shelf about knee-high, were exquisite eye masks. They were a matte black, with glitter sprinkled thickly around the eye holes and on the leafy extensions that swept upward on either side. Unable to select from ones bearing silver, gold or red glitter, I picked up all 3 and deposited them near the laptop where purchases were made. Hunched over the computer was a pretty, young woman. Straightening herself, we made eye contact and smiled at one another.

Breaking the silence, Miss Lizza took the mask framed in red glitter and placed it to her face, so that her eyes peered at me through the holes. Ripples of laughter bounced off the stucco walls, as we made small talk. I told her that the masks were for my daughter and her friends who were dancers. That elicited a confession that she’d been a ballet dancer for several years. Rushing to a small room off to the side of the main shop, the young woman rifled through packages on a shelf. Finding what she sought, she turned back toward me carrying a plastic bag filled with used pointe shoes. She removed a pair, proudly showing them to me. I joined in her excitement as she spoke of bygone days. Eager to tell me about her days dancing, she struggled to find the correct words. I admired her fortitude for pressing onward.

It seemed Miss Lizza might have pursued a career in dance, but was dissuaded by family. So while she might have been disappointed, she forged a new career in mask-making. From what I saw of her work in the shop, I expressed great pleasure in her obvious talent. As I am wont to do, I rummaged through my handbag  pulling out a picture of my daughter, cut from a tourist booklet printed in the town where she resides and dances. I showed it to Miss Lizza who gasped, exclaiming how beautiful my daughter was and how proud I must be of her. I then explained that there was a video of my daughter dancing on the internet. Miss Lizza quickly bent down typing away on her keyboard, asking me where she could find the video. We had difficulty bringing it up, but she did find my daughter’s name and Facebook page. Asking if it was okay to “friend” her, I consented.

As this young, Venetian, former, ballet dancer attempted to compose a message, I marveled at what was happening. A world away, a stranger was on the verge of making my daughter’s acquaintance, sight unseen. I was becoming emotional so that when Miss Lizza wrote “Your mother is standing here beside me and…” I began to cry and then bawl uncontrollably. I missed my daughter very much and felt her presence in this young woman perhaps 10 years her senior. As she and I hugged, I felt like I was holding my own daughter in my arms. Miss Lizza comforted me, telling me she could sense how sensitive and sympathetic I was. We laughed in spite of my tears, for we were behaving like long-lost relatives unexpectedly meeting in a shop, with people wandering in and out. After several attempts at saying goodbye, I turned towards the door to see a very tall, very broad young man staring at us looking dumbfounded. Miss Lizza announced that he was her boyfriend, explaining to him in Venetian what had happened. Passing him on the way out, I told him he was very lucky to have a beautiful, charming girlfriend.

Venice remains special for me, and I will never forget that young woman who felt like a daughter,… if only for an hour or so.

ciao bella…hugmamma.

ride with strangers

Eagerly anticipating a visit with my daughter, I took a connecting flight to where she lives on the east coast. Rather than fly into a major hub, I chose to connect at a smaller airport closer to my destination. From there it was only another hour until I saw that beautiful face, which always brings a huge grin to mine.

Relaxing into the first leg of my trip I drifted in and out of sleep. Finally the plane touched down on the tarmac. Scurrying through the exit door, I hurriedly made my way into the airport. At the nearest flight schedule board, I searched for the gate number of my continuing flight. I could feel my blood pressure rise when I soon realized that it was not listed. Panicked, I found an agent who directed me to the nearby ticket counter.  Walking towards it I noticed a short line of customers waiting.

When it was my turn, I stepped up to the counter and inquired about my flight. To my dismay I was told that all flights had been cancelled. The next available wasn’t until 9 a.m. the next day. Not accustomed to finding myself in such a situation without my husband who usually manages such dilemmas, my heart sank. All I could think was that my daughter was so close, but yet so far.

As is my custom when I’m flummoxed, I phoned my husband who still happened to be at work. My words came tumbling out faster than he could comprehend. But finally he understood my situation. Stepping away from the counter to speak with him, I soon realized that I’d have to figure this one out myself. While still half-listening to him, I overheard a conversation between a man and a woman. Drawing closer to hear what they said, it became clear that she was traveling with him to the city where I was also headed. The gentleman had rented a car beforehand.

I quickly jumped in to ask if I could also hitch a ride. Just as I was told that I could, a younger man joined us to confirm that he would be our fourth traveling companion. Needless to say my husband overheard my maneuvering and was flabbergasted when I said “Bye. I’m riding with Larry. Call you when I get there.” Without waiting for his reply, I hung up.

Lucky move on my part. Seconds later a woman asked if she could join our group. Unfortunately, the car could only sit 4 comfortably on the 5 hour drive.  I felt badly but knew she had the option of staying the night on the airline’s “dime,” and catching a flight out the next day. If I felt any reluctance about the trip, a ticket agent acquainted with Larry reassured the other woman and I that we were in good hands. As a frequent flier for business he was a regular customer.

The journey was nothing short of amazing. My fellow travelers and I established an easy camaraderie. We spoke of family, work, ourselves, our interests. The two men were natives of the area to which we were headed. Larry was returning home from business; John was visiting family. Jane was joining her husband who had gone a day ahead to attend a conference.  At times it was a four-way conversation; other times the 2 men talked, while Jane and I murmured quietly together in the back seat. We all agreed that Larry could pick the time and place for our one and only rest stop. We were all in a hurry to get where we were headed.

As we drew nearer our destination, I was sad to part with newfound friends. I become attached easily. After dropping Jane off at her hotel, we drove to the airport where Larry would return the car, John would rent one to continue driving another 2 hours, and I would meet my daughter. Getting out of the car I hugged Larry, pressing a $20 bill into his hand. Without pause he pushed my hand away refusing any compensation. It was enough, he said, to have pleasant company on what would otherwise have been a long, lonely drive home. Choking back tears, I thanked him profusely and gave John a big hug as well.

Once I saw my daughter, it made little difference that I arrived at midnight instead of 7 p.m.  She always “makes my day”, no matter the hour. I couldn’t ask for more, especially after being bestowed with the gift of a Good Samaritan who came to the rescue of strangers who became friends.

forever grateful to Larry…hugmamma.