Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Tatiana Papers 4

Among several loose folders of my mom's is one titled "Zoe's Poems." There isn't much in there, a manuscript, a few decent poems I shared with her in my mid twenties, my college senior thesis poetry project, and another bundle of poems I must have sent her during my early years in college, a bundle of bad poems, total squirm-worthy dreck. But in that bundle was the poem below, a silly rhyming poem, a poem I probably shouldn't show anyone. A poem that seems to be written by a nine year old, not a nineteen year old.

I don't remember writing it, so its existence is a pretty major element of surprise for me. It seems more like something that could be a kids book of some sort, sans cigarette smoke.

Since Mother's Day just passed it seems appropriate to share this little light on long ago (and my writing has matured vastly since then, really! I am including an image of another poem that was in the folder that I wrote in my early 20's).

"What is that child up to now?"
She must wonder
As I scamper from room to room
As a pout scars my face of gloom
As I shut my bedroom door
Search through every cabinet and drawer
And open all the closet doors
As I plop down on the living room chair
And my silly smirk paints the air

"She's going to harm herself!"
She must believe
As cigarette smoke dances in front of her nose
As I stand upon the kitchen chair
One foot balanced on a pile of books and pillows
As I try to reach that shelf so high
And strain a muscle in my upper thigh
As I push my food away
Always muttering, "not today."
And I do this every day
As I speed from one lane to the other
"Slow down!"
                "Oh mother!"

"She doesn't love me. . . "
She must think
After I slam a door right in her face
Or walk in front of her at a faster pace
Or I smart talk with a tongue so cruel
Always looking for a duel
Or I tell her I'm going to college a week too soon
"She'll probably kill herself, that crazy goon!"

But I do love my mother so
With eyes of soft almond glow
She's always brave and forever strong
In the long run rarely wrong
She's beautiful and so very giving
She makes my life one worth living

I just wish she'd understand
I need my independence at hand
By not yielding to her warnings, I mean no offense
I'm just trying to learn from experience
Because sometimes
A lesson taught by the experience earned
Is really the only lesson learned. . . 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Tatiana Papers 3

among my mother's things are letters i wrote her, cards i sent her, photos i gave her, and drawings i made her. she kept a lot of it.

this charcoal pencil drawing is not dated. but if the drawing of the girl is a self portrait, i may have made it in 1991, when i lived in seattle, the year i turned 24. i cut off my waste length hair shortly after i moved there, scissors to braids, and sported a shaggy, multi length look. by the time the year was up, my hair was shaven off altogether.

just doodles that i made in communication with my mother. the blob in the middle is cyprus. the mountains and sea and cozy cottage speak of washington state, but clearly my mind was set on a path elsewhere.

she visited me in seattle toward the end of my time there, in early 1992. she stayed in the airy arty apartment i shared with three men. we took a week long trip down the olympic peninsula and into oregon, driving through clear cut land and indian reservations, staying in cold, cheap, coastal motels. it was probably one of our closest times together. 

i'd had a confusing year in that magical city. i was sad and ready for a change. she was understanding and supportive at a time when i was most lost. shortly after her visit i traveled to california and never returned to the puget sound

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Tatiana Papers 2

This bible has pages falling out and torn. It's missing its center tile. The spine is disintegrating. It seems that Jerusalem was etched over with blue pen ink.

When I Googled Mother of Pearl Jerusalem bible, I found many just like this, but with the Star of David in the center. Who knows, maybe I'll find that missing tile among my mother's things.

I don't know the story behind this bible, how it came to her. She had several index cards tucked into it with notes on biblical characters. 

When I look at it closely enough, it almost looks like there is a stick figure drawn in pencil in the center, similar to the stick figures on that mysterious piece of paper.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Tatiana Papers 1

The curiosity of this piece of paper is what lead me to this exercise. I'm sure it's just a doodle, a passing note. I found it all crinkled up at the bottom of a box of photos. Stick figures, the inked bits, a Himalayan hut. Is it a play on words? Is russing supposed to be rushing?

And then there are the measurements. And the zeros? Surrounded by the names of Shakespeare plays. How old is this? I saw a Midsummer Night's Dream with my mother in Hyde Park in the late 70's. Why did this single piece of paper survive? Is it significant?

p.s. well the google has the answer. amazing how quickly something mysterious can turn into something, well, terribly pedestrian. the joke is below. the next questions is, really? she found this funny enough to write down, with an illustration to boot? and somehow it remains among her things?

 There is a whorehouse on a hill. There is one person going to it, one person leaving from it, and one person inside it. What are there nationalities?

The man going up is Russian,
The man going away is Finnish,
and the man inside is Himalayan.

The Tatiana Papers: An Introduction

i have very slowly been sorting through my mother's items; things that have landed in my possession in the last six months.

when she was shaken from remission and diagnosed with leukemia cutis (a systemic form that manifests as skin lesions) we were told the game was up. the doctor said she would be lucky to live two months. she managed four.

before she went into hospice, i would often leave her apartment with a mysterious bag or box she pushed my way, full of items i needed to distribute, donate, trash, or keep. she got to work on her grand purge with great focus and determination, even though she was often in excruciating pain and she felt nauseous most of the day.

on my side, the bags and boxes piled up. i had no time to sort. i was working, mothering my seven year old, running my mother's errands, taking her to daily treatments, trying to keep a house full of pets moderately tidy, researching possible assistance, preparing for yule, and finishing the day with an election-gone-to-shit. i am blessed with a very patient spouse who settled me down or heard me out. i had no time to sort.

my mother passed as peacefully as one might hope on feb 3, 2017. the months leading up to it feel like an eternity wrapped into a missile. six weeks after blast off i'm still trying to come down to earth. 

here on earth one of  my tasks is to sort through my mother's things while trying to orient to life without her. while my mother didn't have that much stuff—there are so many single items that vibrate with her essence, or emphasize her mystery. i don't want to pass up this study. i don't want to push her things into the crawl space where they will disappear under the things my family of four accumulates.

my mother would probably be appalled to know i'm about to blog about her private world. for me it's an exercise in archiving. i am a writer who hasn't had much time to write. an examination of what she has left behind will help me to emerge with a better perspective on our lives. it's a way to honor her too, whether or not she would approve!

maybe i won't come up with much, but here it begins. at the ending. 

a raw investigation of a woman alone.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Eulogy for my Mother, Tatiana Efthyvoulou, 1931-2017

When my mother was first diagnosed with leukemia she was told she had two weeks to live. Almost two years later we have walked a troubled path, death hiding behind every rock and tree, challenging our time together. Many of you have heard about the struggles of supporting my mom in the last couple of years, but here I want to focus on the positive.

As you can see from the photos in this slide show, my mother had a beautiful smile and was generous with her laughter. When I was a young child she was my Goddess—a strong, striking, independent, and hard-working woman, who was quiet and mysterious. She was a scuba diver, a sport that struck terror in me, but that I admired. I will always see my mother emerging from the sea, sun glinting off her wet skin, or sitting on the shore in a floppy sunhat, her gaze on the distant horizon. My mother was a romantic and a dreamer.

While my childhood was not always easy, I attribute so much of who I am today to my mom. Seeds of naturalism she planted continue to grow in me—a connection to the countryside, to lawns gone wild, to creek stomping and hill climbing and sunset views, and my great love of the vast sea. My mother was committed to feeding the birds, and loved to watch them from her Crozet window, competing with the squirrels.

 These two photos are of me, in Cyprus

A popular travel consultant, my mother engendered in me a passion for travel. She took me to Jamaica, St. Martin, the Bahamas, Mexico, England, Spain, Italy, Malta, Tunisia, Egypt, and Greece. These trips were sometimes difficult for a child—there were destitute beggars in the slums of Cairo pulling at us, gypsies with hungry babies in Madrid calling to us, andmy mother’s whereabouts unknown to meI was left with a babysitter that didn’t speak my language in Tunis. But through this exposure I learned about compassion and diversity and resilience. I will never forget the time we went on diving tour of the Caribbean Islands. My mother and the rest of the group were deep in dark, turbulent water, and I was on the deck of the swaying yacht with the cook, both of us queasy. At some point I asked her why our skins were different color. She replied in a thick accent, “Because child, God cooked me longer than you.” We are all the same inside, regardless of color, and we deserve equal respect and opportunities. Living in a very white small town, I might not have learned this lesson so early on if my mother hadn’t taken me on these trips.

With my mother & her stepmother, Marcell, in Egypt

Another great gift my mother gave me was my birthplace: Cyprus. And while it set me apart from my peers when she moved me to a small rural Pennsylvania town when I was four, the lonely life I shared with my mother fostered imagination, resourcefulness, independence, and a broad world view.

My Papou and I in Cyprus

My mother had a big heart. Love lead her down many roads, and sometimes the turns she took, did not lead her or I or my brothers to bright shores. While she suffered from several failed relationships, her children were most important to her, becoming more and more so as she aged. She made many sacrifices for us in her later life, wanting to make up for ways she thought she fell short when we were younger.  There is not a shadow of a doubt that my mother loved my brothers and I deeply.  

Tatiana Efthyvoulou, born in 1931 in Nicosia, Cyprus, was an ardent supporter of peace and women’s rights, picketing and protesting on many occasions. Much to the other tenants’ dismay, she regularly fed a homeless woman who slept in the entry foyer of her apartment building in Buffalo. In her last year of life, conversation was almost always dominated by her great worry that Donald Trump would become president. I often minimized her concerns, refusing to believe it was possible. The day Trump was inaugurated my mother stopped eating and getting out of bed. I was traveling to DC for the Women’s March, something she urged me to attend. I wore a sash, at the time not even realizing that the phrase I had etched across it—Love Your Mother—was driven by a very personal significance. 

 At the Women's March in DC 

My mother made amazing food: Baklava, Mousaka, Pastitsio, Youvralakia, Souvlaki, and brownies my brother James would eat an entire tray of. She adored picnics and cook-outs.  She was also an astonishing knitter, making amazing garments for her children, her in-laws, her grandchildren. A detailed double sided shawl was her last great work. She took flight, and gave me wings in the process. 

While my mother and I had a troubled relationship at times, we shared so much, just the two of us, on the road, or quietly sitting in her warm apartments, attending to our individual pursuits. We had a relationship of little words, and when there were words, they were often argumentative ones. We are built of the same stubborn blood, after all, and both carried a great deal of unresolved pain. But in the end, when her anxieties quieted and she lay in her hospice bed awaiting the angel of death, the only thing left between us was pure love. In my sadness is an unconditional love that I know will heal all the hurts.
 Light reflecting on the wall above her bed in hospice 

I am relieved she is free of her suffering, reunited with her own beloved parents and siblings, looking down upon us as she promised to do. Without the pain, or the fear, her stunning smile is stretching across the heavens, and embracing us in her generous, undying, maternal love. 

Above: Me, my brother James, and my brother Howard
Below: My mother and I with my Papou looking on 

Below are a few shots from my mother's wake, funeral, and makaria for far away family who could not attend. 
Memorial gifts can be made to Hospice of the Piedmont and St. Nicholas Orthodox Church.


Memory Eternal