Saturday, May 14, 2011

Hurtful Hospitality

©2011 Linda Goodman

When my daughter, Melanie, was seven years old, I began a tradition of allowing her to have an overnight pajama party on her birthday. The first year I allowed her to invite any and every little girl that she wanted. I even went a step further and invited girls that she did not even know. A good time was had by all, but it took me three days to clear the debris and make my apartment feel like a home again.

On the occasion of her thirteenth birthday, I decided to make a change. That year I told Melanie that she could invite on six girls to her party.

Melanie, of course, protested. She insisted that she had too many friends to invite only six. “How do I decided who to invite? Is it fair to leave someone out?” she asked.

I replied, “People get left out all the time. It’s part of growing up. Just pick the six girls you like best and be done with it!”

Melanie’s birthday brought six lovely girls to my townhouse in Baltimore. My husband and I gave them our recreation room in the basement for the night. There was plenty of food, lots of videos, loud (but not too loud) music, and, I am sure, plenty of stories exchanged as they readied their sleeping bags to settle down for the evening.

In the morning, my husband served up a nice breakfast of eggs, bacon, and pancakes. By late morning all my daughter’s guests had departed for home. I declared that this had been the best party ever. Melanie, however, was strangely and uncharacteristically silent.

In the early afternoon there was a knock at the front door. When I opened the door, I found Ruth standing there. In her hands she held a present wrapped in red paper.

Ruth had not been invited to Melanie’s party. She was a young girl who was awkward in social situations. She and Melanie got on quite well when just the two of them were together, but she grew shy, almost to the point of invisibility, when other girls joined them. Perhaps that is why Melanie chose not to include her among the six girls that she invited to the party.

When Melanie saw Ruth, the two girls ran to one another and, without speaking, hugged. The hug was followed by tears: Ruth’s because she had not been included among the favored few; Melanie’s because she had caused her friend pain; and mine, because I was ashamed of my own thoughtlessness, which had harmed, not only my daughter, but also a young girl whose life was difficult enough before she realized that she did not rank high enough on the scale of friendship to be invited to a my daughter’s party.

The gift that Ruth had brought was a musical jewelry box with a tiny ballerina dancing atop its mirrored lid. I could tell it was not new. I am sure that Melanie, too, recognized this. Ruth had brought Melanie one of her own most treasured possessions, and Melanie declared that Ruth had brought her the best birthday present she had ever gotten. Was she talking about the jewelry box? Or was she talking about Ruth’s forgiveness and unconditional friendship?

In just a few hours, I had our basement back in order. Its quick restoration to my meticulous standards, however, did not feel as good as I thought it would. To have offered no hospitality, I realized, would have been a better choice than offfering hurtful hospitality.

On Melanie’s fourteenth birthday, I allowed her to invite any and every girl that she wanted.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Diving and Emerging

Compact Disc Review

Available from Regi Carpenter at Email: $15.00 (includes shipping and handling) Recommended for teens and adults.

Reviewed By Linda Goodman

As I listened to Regi Carpenter’s CD Bendable Barbies, I thought to myself, storytelling doesn’t get any better than this. Too bad lightening doesn’t strike twice.

But sometimes lightening does strike twice. Diving and Emerging goes a step beyond Bendable Barbies to combine Carpenter’s glorious singing voice (think Judy Collins), her beautifully crafted stories, and Peter Dodge’s haunting, lovely instrumentals. Diving and Emerging is a CD that I will listen to over and over again (a rarity for me). It is a work of art and it deserves accolades. Carpenter has gone deep into the waters, pulling from its murky depths the heart and soul of life’s rawest moments and making them palatable for the uninitiated. Not everyone will understand, but just because I do not understand Picasso does not mean that he is not a great artist. Those who recognize the spoken word as an art form will be captivated by these soul-wrenching tales.

The first story on the CD, The Lucky Caul, begins with Carpenter’s rendition of Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child before segueing into the story of her difficult birth, one in which both mother and child died and were brought back. Questions that began that day still haunt mother and child today. One cannot help but wonder if having the answers would make a difference. Life is a quest that is not meant to be tied into a tight little bundle.

Dead Man’s Float is set on the St. Lawrence River, the largest fresh water seaway in the world, where Carpenter walks on fifteen inches of ice in the winter and sneaks fishing trips in the spring and summer, all the while birthing and sharing childhood myths. The river, she tells us, is like a mother, both loving and treacherous. The joy it births is tempered by sorrow. And yet a little girl who can demonstrate perfectly the proper form for the dead man’s float cannot stay away, anymore than she can stop breathing.

Woman of the Sea is a Selkie tale that speaks to loneliness, star-crossed love, and the magnetic pull of home. We may have children and we may nurture a family, but that does not change who we are at our core. Like the woman in this story, some cannot resist returning to that from which they came.

Hidden Treasures presents as a metaphor for life a recurring dream set in water that is the texture of “parfait in a Tupperware cup.” Life is a constant diving and emerging in a search of one’s self. Sometimes it can take years to find the truth of what you are looking for.

The music that Peter Dodge composed to accompany these stories perfectly sets and sustains the dreamlike quality of the recording. It is soothing, like a calm river on a still summer’s day. Dodge and Carpenter are a well-matched team.

I cannot wait to share this CD with my friends. There is much substance in these stories that will keep us chewing for hours, perhaps even days. They may even prompt us to bear our own souls in an attempt to answer life’s never-ending questions. These are the kinds of stories that give birth to more stories. What a rich and wondrous gift!