Stumble Upon

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Grandfathers and Cigars

My Greek Grandfather

It was the Great Depression. My immigrant Greek grandfather’s produce stand in Chicago was defunct. But he was a proud man and would not let the other Greek men know how bad things were.

To uphold his position in the community of first generation Americans, he met in the evenings just as he always had with the other Greek men to smoke a cigar and play cards. No one knew how desperate things really were for him.

My mother, only 12, adored her father Vasileios, a man who stood tall with erect, almost stiff posture, strong cheekbones and groomed moustache, an honest, hardworking man who came to America from a small village in Greece to build a new and prosperous life.

To help the family get by, my mother worked long hours at the factory and visited her father faithfully every evening where she discretely slipped a quarter into his jacket draped over his chair to pay for his cigar.

Nothing was ever said…no thank you or acknowledgement of the child’s nightly gift to her father. It would not have been fitting. The ritual continued until his death of a broken heart, according to my mother, from having lost everything, including the American dream.

That is the only story I remember being told about my grandfather, but it gave me a portrait of a proud man who kept his dignity in times of adversity.

My Jewish Grandfather

My father's father, Grandpa Harry, was a true entrepreneur who came from Hungary to also build his fortune in the new world. He started working in Minnesota for the Edward Hines Lumber Co. and soon became an interpreter for the other immigrant men.

He spoke seven languages and was a clever man who seized opportunities wherever he found them. He also became the banker of sorts for the other men helping them as they found their way in a new land.

Grandpa Harry had many businesses, some succeeded, some failed, but he never quit. After the crash, he pawned his wedding ring to pay his bills and start again. Tall for the time, over 6 feet, he dominated others, including his sons but adored his grandchildren, especially the girls.

I was one of his favorites. He gave me my first instrument, a second hand clarinet. He wanted to give me a piano but there was no room for it in our small apartment in Chicago. He also gave me a used typewriter that I still had when I went off to college.

There are many funny stories about Grandpa Harry like the time we woke up to find new bushes that he had planted in our yard while we slept in our new house in the suburbs. We never knew where the shrubbery came from. It was just the way Grandpa did things.

One of my memories of him was his cigars. Every time he took one out of the cigar box, he gave me the seal which I immediately made into a shiny ring for my finger.

 It was a game we played, a special ritual in the bond we shared. So "smelly" cigars became gifts and symbols of love in my family.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2009 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Photo of Two Cigars by Josiah Gordon

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Following My Bliss

For me creative writing is awakening. I feel fully alive. I lose self-consciousness and become conscious. Writing feeds my soul and completes me. It connects my heart and mind and opens me to self-exploration recreated into words. It exalts my spirit and the real me sings out.

Creative writing puts me in touch, makes me aware, and connects all my parts. It makes me feel whole and free…a watershed release from deep inside. It’s joyous and fulfilling.

It gives my life force a voice that speaks my inner truth.

Because most of my writing is for business, writing creatively is a rare luxury, stolen moments to tell my stories. I’ve waited to tell my stories, until I could take the risk, until my children were independent, until I believed in my work, until others affirmed it.

The stories have been gestating far too long, and I feel as if I’m going to burst soon. They seem so insistent, demanding to be told. I am “very pregnant” with them. They’ve been waiting for their time to live and refuse to wait any longer.

I’ve seen the effect my stories have on others from my Writing from Life classes, at a public reading in Woodstock where the audience was brought to tears, and at a Writer’s Studio memoir workshop in New York City. I’ve learned that my stories are not just for me.

They need to be told and shared. Through them, I experienced the power to connect to many. They’re universal stories of family, relationships, sorrow, and healing.

I’ve been told for years, “You should write a book.” And so the time has come to nurture my self-expression and transform my experiences into my memoir of blog stories.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2009 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Photo by asafesh

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sea Sanctuary

I’m with my old friend, the sea…just the waves, a few sailboats, occasional shorebirds, scattered shells, polished stones and shifting sand.

The sea, my sanctuary, place of worship and salvation… soothing, grounding, sacred, peaceful, a place to be alone and protected where I can shut out the distractions of the world and my mind and become whole, balanced and connected—my soul’s home.

Here I am free of worry, stress, responsibility and uncertainty, safe from a world of money, relationships, deadlines, and demands, uncluttered and unfettered. Basic shelter from life’s storms and disappointments with powerful forces that mirror my unconscious, shifting, mysterious, creative, unknown.

I am awed by the sea’s strength and endurance, its unceasing change: beauty in the bright sun, dusk and blackness—reassuring, lasting, and transforming like life itself.

Its shoreline provides an ever changing altar of glass chards, sparkling in the sun like tiny stain glass windows, hallowed ground for fish sacs, driftwood and seaweed.

The sandy tableau displays the sea’s random creativity and many moods reflected in the sun’s mirror complemented by the sky’s designer backdrop, brilliant in crimson at sunset and stunning in black velvet with shimmering stars at night.

The sea is my sanctuary, life affirming, reliable and unpredictable, free to be itself, stormy or placid—no limitations, no should’s or have to’s, no one to answer to—a universal constant that transcends love, war, politics, career and family. It only answers to itself.

The sea manifests its deity without icons, saints, incense, catechism and hymns, and I come to worship as a parishioner who speaks and prays for strength, wisdom and direction.

This is the place where I become centered, renewed and readied to be part of the world again, a spa for all of my senses where I can reconnect all my parts and return revitalized to life itself.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2009 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Sea Photo by Jack Oceano
Shell Photo by Karunakar Rayker

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Halloween Treat

My aunt grinned as she finished applying my dark, red lipstick and thick, black mascara. These were the finishing touches along with large hoop hearings, rope necklaces and shiny, arm bracelets that accessorized my striped orange, brown and black midriff blouse worn saucily off one shoulder above my swirling skirt.

I was only 12. What I saw looking back at me in the mirror was a wild gypsy girl, a dramatic, mysterious me seeing my adventurous self for the first time. No longer a ghost or a witch, this year’s costume and make-up revealed a sensuous, exciting version of myself I had felt but never seen.

This was much more than playing dress-up in my aunt’s high heel shoes when I visited her during the summer. I saw myself blooming, still a child but in woman’s make-up and jewelry, a preview of what I was becoming.

The future me in the reflection was daring, the heroine of a bold, passionate life. She looked back at me, pleased with herself to allow me a glance at a life I imagined from books I read and movie stars I admired.

This Halloween I discovered I could be more than an awkward, gangly girl. I caught a glimpse of the woman who was waiting for me to be her. I didn’t know her yet, but I liked her.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2009 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Georgie’s Girl

I was the new kid in seventh grade in the suburbs of Chicago. Georgie was the leader of the eighth grade boys. He was cocky, mischievous, wore his jeans slung on his hips without a belt, a black leather motorcycle jacket with his collar up…an irresistible mix of James Dean and John Travolta with thick, blonde, wavy hair and blue eyes that made me melt.

All the girls adored him. Georgie was king of the school and everybody tried to please him, except me. I was so shy that I wouldn’t talk to him and only looked at him when he couldn’t see. The others thought my awkward standoffishness was what they called “stuck-up.”

I fantasized about Georgie but never dreamed he would notice me. I’m not sure what attracted him to me except that I was the only girl not fawning over him. One day, his simple “hi” broke our silence as he walked me to my locker.

After that, we were “a couple,” and he escorted me to my classes regularly. Of course, I was thrilled as if my dream had come true. Georgie also started riding his motorcycle to my house, the ultimate display of affection to a girl who never had a boyfriend before.

Since Georgie liked me, the 8th grade girls’ clique called the Sub-Debs (like the Pink Ladies in Grease) invited me to their lunch table, and soon I became one of them. We wore identical yellow jackets and rolled down our bobby socks an inch at the top to look cool.

I cut my hair short in a slick DA shaped into a duck tail in the back with side curls that I taped to my cheeks at night to train them to lie plastered against my face during the day.

Though Georgie looked like a gang member from West Side Story, he was always a gentleman with me. Our relationship was innocent and delightful, just handholding and closed-mouth kissing. We never “made out.” I was still very shy, and he never tried.

I remember his asking me to “go steady” on a summer day on a bench near the park at the end of our street. He even gave me his engraved ID bracelet to wear so everyone would know I was Georgie’s girl. After that, I gained new status in the school and became the envy of the other girls.

Other than a few sweet kisses, my first love and I only shared socializing at school and some parties at other kids’ houses, usually in the basement, the knotty-pine, paneled party room for working class families in suburban Chicago homes.

I’m not sure when Georgie and I went our separate ways. We seemed to drift apart when I went to high school. I started spending more time with student leaders and other teens that wanted to go to college. That didn’t interest Georgie. He was street smart, savvy, and in a hurry to make money.

We no longer had much in common. He still had a following of the boys from Berger Elementary School, but was not a high-school achiever in sports, scholastics, or extra-curricular activities. I lost track of him in our overcrowded high school of 4,000 students. The following year I was elected the first girl president of the sophomore class.

After I graduated and moved on to the University of Illinois, I came home for the summers and worked in downtown Chicago. One day I ran into Georgie on the street in my hometown. It felt awkward. We really didn’t know what to say to each other. It had been much easier in seventh grade. We were now in very different places.

I was dressed for business and he was still in his construction coveralls. Working in the sun made him blonder, rugged, and more handsome. He was still mischievous and his confidence was disarming.

We made small talk and scanned each other. I felt sexually attracted to him at 19 and wondered what it would be like to be intimate with him. I sensed that the feeling was mutual but neither of us tried to revive our lost love.

I never saw Georgie again. I married my college sweetheart and moved to another state to teach near where my husband was attending law school. My father later told me that Georgie married one of the quiet, pretty girls from my class who never went to college.

They seemed to be doing well: big house, cars, boat, etc. I knew Georgie was a hustler and was not surprised that he was earning big money in the construction business. He always had to be number one.

A couple years later, I heard that Georgie was in prison. His ambition had led him to his own private plane, major drug deals, and connections to cartels smuggling drugs into the country. As always, he did things in a big way and never stood for being second best at anything.

Many years have passed, but the memory of him as my first love remains tucked away in my heart forever. He made an awkward, young, skinny girl feel pretty and special. I will always be thankful that I was Georgie’s girl.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2009 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Rooms R Us

I could hardly wait!

My own room for the first time ever. I didn't have to sleep with other people in the room anymore...a place where I could close the door and escape into daydreams, fantasies, and PRIVACY.
My parents even found a used vanity table with a mirror and chair for my room. The cosmetics on the vanity crowded my stuffed animals. I knew sooner or later there would not be room for both. I felt so feminine and grown-up in the vanity's mirror seeing the reflection of a future acclaimed actress or best-selling author.

The closet held only "my" things, no one else's. My storybook dolls, timeless princesses adorned in beautiful gowns and tiaras, slept undisturbed in their plastic, see-through boxes, unspoiled and forever perfect. Like Sleeping Beauty, they awaited the kiss of the handsome prince to awaken them.

I would transform my room into a sanctuary, dreamscape, and bigger-than-life movie starring me. Sometimes the room became a time machine transporting me to a wonderful future filled with love, romance and riches.

On my fantasy stage, I would confront my parents and win; accept the Oscar graciously; be crowned Miss America; and passionately kiss the senior class president. It was here where I rehearsed for life; and, all my stories had happy, victorious endings written, produced and directed from the theatre of my mind.

Years later, I shared my room, this time with my husband. How strange to be lying there beside him with my parents in the next room. I felt self conscious about the squeaky bedsprings and refused to make love, for somehow that was sacrilege. In this place, nothing in reality could compare to the exquisite romances of my girlhood fantasies.

After my divorce, I stayed in my room for the last time. The house was empty. My parents had divorced long ago and my mother had passed. I went there with a man I cared for but had no plans to marry.

As I lay beside him, memories and ghosts swept over me. I wept as I realized my lovely, girlhood dreams had shattered in the outside world. Now I possessed wisdom and experience, but the innocent girl imagining her first kiss was gone forever.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2009 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED