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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Our Christmas of Catastrophes

Most Christmas memories blend together, a collage of moments in the scrapbook of memories we all carry in our minds.

But there is one from my childhood that stands out.

It was our Christmas of Catastrophes in 1953 when I was 10 and living in a small apartment with my two brothers, my parents and our cat, Kitty.

Chicago was under a snow and ice siege…freezing, slippery conditions that kept us inside as the biggest and most anticipated holiday of the year approached.

We were excited. Our Greek mother had taught us to sing “Silent Night” in Greek to impress our relatives when the big day arrived.

We decorated our tree that just missed the ceiling and sat tucked into the corner of our small living room. The ornaments were vintage now, mostly glass tinted with silver and gold designs and old world themes, from my parents early Christmases together.

Some of our strung colored lights were candles with rising bubbles that appeared when they were lit. Once decorated, the finishing touches were slivers of silver tinsel hung from the branches. It was a happy time for a working class family in the immigrant neighborhood.

Nothing seemed different this particular Christmas except for the nonstop severe weather and the sheets of ice everywhere.

The most popular Christmas song that year was Nat King Cole’s recording of “The Christmas Song.” My father who loved to sing in bars and at weddings had to have it. He called all over the city to find a copy of the 78 record platter and finally found one.

Under other circumstances, my father would not have ventured out in the Arctic grip the city was under, but he was obsessed with the song and was determined to have it for Christmas. So he cleared the car of its snow and ice and began his trek to the record store.

Our cat Kitty, we discovered, was fascinated by the slinky, snakelike glimmering tinsel dangling seductively from the branches. It was a new cat toy to play with and bat with his paws.

However, it didn’t stop there. Kitty wanted to taste the tinsel, and with one stubborn tug pulled down the tree.

Branches snapped, ornaments rolled across the floor, some broke, and we gasped. With tears and laughter we put the tree upright and repaired the damages as best we could to restore it to its pristine state.

It was dark now and my weary father returned with his precious record only to find worsened street conditions for parking his big Caddie. As he attempted to seesaw into a spot, he hit the car in front and in back of him.

Totally exasperated, my dad now had car insurance and damage issues as well as unhappy neighbors to deal with. He finally gave up and came inside in a foul mood. The earlier excitement and family cheer were now gone.

But there was still one more catastrophe that day.

My dad unwrapped the coveted record from its packaging only to discover it was cracked and unplayable.

We did recover from that awful day and still had a good Christmas in spite of the cat, the tree, the car and the broken record.

It was an unforgettable Christmas, our Christmas of Catastrophes.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2009-2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Cat photo by Palmer W. Cook

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hearts & Teardrops: A Geography Lesson

Years ago, sitting in my English professor's office, I found a curious wall map of the U.S.

It was a canvas divided only with states' borders; instead of cities, the painting was dotted with partial and broken hearts and teardrops like pushpins marking an emotional geography.

I asked my professor what the hearts and teardrops represented on the non-topographical map. He told me they were placemarks for locations where hearts still lingered and tears still stained the people and relationships of the artist's life.

It got me thinking as to where I would place my hearts and tears around the country. I have lived in the Midwest, East Coast, and now the West and Southwest.

How many hearts and tears would there be for my sixty some years of living as my relationships changed: marriage, divorce, separation, and friendships that touched me, a mix of love and hurt, joy and sadness?

Some relationships, no matter where they happened, stay with me; others are gone and not stood the test of time.

My personal geography, like the painting, has its share of both symbols marking my emotional terrain throughout the years.

They represent some of the happiest and some of the most painful experiences of my life.

Nevertheless, my emotional geography is not a map I would change. My map is filled with geography lessons that are part of the journey I have known and have shaped me into who I am.

Did I take the roads less travelled? Did I end up in places I never thought I would? Looking back, does it really matter? The detours were often the best parts of the trip.

I'm still traveling and expect I will add more hearts and tears along the way. What's important are the experiences they represent of a life fully lived.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Broken Heart by Billy Alexander

Saturday, December 4, 2010


I close my eyes and breathe deeply.

As I take deeper, longer breaths, in my mind, I am transported.

I stand before an arch looking at the path that takes me into a golden field on the way to the garden, my beautiful, tranquil garden.

I follow the path to the water and the secluded garden where my guide awaits.

It is a spiritual retreat, and only I have access.

It is an inner resting place I have created when there is nowhere else to go. Life’s pressures and stresses are not allowed in my secret garden.

When I enter the garden, I escape the cares and weight of life. My guide is always there …when I am afraid, uncertain and alone. We are connected. We sit beside the water, and my guide listens to my doubts and apprehensions.

I know I can rely on my guide to help me when life is too much, and I need refuge. This is our time and place, an inner world untouched by others, where there is peace and comfort from external reality.

In the garden, I am soothed by my gentle guide. We are detached from the material world.

Protected in my meditative oasis, I transcend responsibilities, worries and anxieties.

In my garden I am calm. I am safe. I am free.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2009-2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Archway photo by Maureen McGarrigle