family, growing up, Home

Motherhood

“I’ve been sweet and I’ve been good 🎵 I’ve had a whole full day of motherhood 🎵 But I’m gonna have an Aviance night!”

I didn’t need to see this commercial in 1977 to know that motherhood was something I wanted to avoid at all costs. My mom had profound ambivalence about being a parent, which she shared openly with her girls while we were growing up, and we harbored few romantic illusions about “the pitter-patter of little feet.” Raising kids was hard work!

My mother hated the overtly commercial nature and artificiality of Mother’s Day. She’d accept flowers and chocolate any day of the year – but greeting cards on Mother’s Day? No way! One year I sent her a card intended for a NON-mother, and it made her laugh – which was my intention. (I loved to make her laugh!)

I don’t recall her ever complaining about how “pregnancy had destroyed” her figure, as other women have been known to do; in fact, she said she liked how nursing babies filled out her bosom. She wasn’t crazy about housework (who is??), and once she allowed herself to spend the money, really loved going out for meals instead of cooking at home. And treating you! She was generous like that – and lots of other ways.

However, she had mixed feelings about possessions, including furniture. For the longest time she didn’t have any. This worked almost as an anti-welcome mat, except that she had friends and family stay over frequently. Still, I remember visiting her in San Francisco where the only place to sit (besides the FLOOR!?) was the toilet! She had sewn up some multi-colored pillows for the hardwood floor and that night I slept on Chiclets!

not the most comfortable bedding!

When her older sister came for a visit in NYC, my mother finally broke down and bought a couple of captain’s beds, a table and 2 chairs – “they’re for Helen!” she said. But she kept them after that, so maybe they were for other guests, too?

The incongruity of her resistance to motherhood is that she was actually quite gifted at the most important parts of being a mother; she liked to teach us, to share her enthusiasms (art, music, theater, fashion, movies, other people’s cooking, etc.) She followed her interests and tried new things – she wasn’t fearless but she did it anyway. And she could be extraordinarily affectionate and playful; sometimes she’d hug you and refuse to let go, until it got silly and you both collapsed in laughter! And then she’d grab and hug you again!

NOT letting you go!!

Among my loved ones, she was “the one that got away” – the person I most wanted to impress, whose attention was most elusive and thus most precious. In a way, I never stopped being her baby; looking for her approval, desperately wanting her to be happy. I think she always wanted to be wanted – and she was!

the center of baby’s world!
more than she ever knew!
Please, please, please love me too, Mamala!
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music biz, growing up, excellence, family

A Major Award!

OH, yeah!!

I’m not much of a prize-winner – (one reason I don’t play the Lotto!)  Ten years ago I won a couple Toastmasters ribbons for fairly coherent Table Talks. And I won a trophy for Safety Patrol service in the 6th grade – essentially for good attendance, not because I’d saved anyone’s life or anything like that. The next year my older sister took home practically every award and prize given by the school when she graduated from 8th grade. Meanwhile I slumped into ignominy in junior high, receiving my first of several troublesome report cards. My dad was very nice about it – he even defended me to the teachers, but it was obvious I’d never be the superstar student my older sister was.

Competition was a fact of life in the Harris household – for applause from the outside world and for attention within our family. But at the same time that the quest for the spotlight was expected, it was also sometimes shamed and ridiculed. I grew up feeling somewhat ambivalent about such recognition, as it could invite jealousy and sneering contempt. 

Still, it’s gratifying to be acknowledged for our accomplishments; high school diplomas, college sheepskins, gold records, acknowledgement for one’s work being chosen in competition. Tokens of friendship, mementos of belonging.

not quite an Oscar…

It’s even become Big Business! Win or lose, these days kids get participation trophies for just showing up! 

no, we are NOT all “the best!”

When we got married, my husband had several boxes of awards he’d won on graduating from high school. The John Philip Sousa trophy. Outstanding Musician plaque. Awards for conducting, prizes for arranging, medals for performing, assisting, leading the section….   I honestly couldn’t believe how many there were – WAY more than the haul my older sis had!!

(And over the years I’ve learned how deserved they all were – how Mark had EARNED these awards and lived up to his potential – no, surpassed the expectations of his teachers.)  

I was overwhelmed, and once again felt horribly inadequate. I told him they had to go, that our midtown Manhattan apartment was too small to keep them, even tucked away in a closet.

Truth is, I was envious. I had never had my talents publicly acknowledged like that. I wanted those trophies GONE.

So we took photos of them and threw them in the trash.

Not my proudest moment. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t make that demand today.

THE “major award” from A CHRISTMAS STORY
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family, Home

Putting It Together

I wasn’t a fan of jigsaw puzzles until I got married. In lieu of hard partying at a big New Year’s Eve bash, the Wolfram clan traditionally brings in the first of the year by completing a picture puzzle. Over the years I’ve played enough NYE gigs to know that puzzle-making is a more peaceful (if less lucrative!?) way to celebrate the holiday, and I’ve grown to appreciate them.

Certainly jigsaw puzzles, like board games and other pastimes, have flourished during these pandemic lockdown times. And they are satisfying to assemble; I’ve found them to be calming to work on, giving a sense of accomplishment and control as the pieces come together and the picture takes shape.

What makes a good-but-not-too-challenging puzzle is up for conjecture. Go on YouTube and you’ll see there are many differing opinions – some prefer still life, or scenic beauty, while others like abstracts. I lean towards scenes with lots of tiny details, because sometimes the loveliest photo has too much same-colored background, making it almost impossible to finish.

I’m comforted by the familiar – old LP covers of records I used to own, or Times Square in NYC, or old movie posters, or candy bars from the past. (Hey – a gal can dream!)


Then there are some puzzles that are just plain EVIL: https://www.rd.com/list/most-challenging-jigsaw-puzzles/

When it comes to puzzles, you’ve gotta choose your battles!

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learning, music biz, self-acceptance, growing up, family

Human Doings

“So what have you done lately?” It used to really bug me when my dearly departed dad would ask this question; while I’d be eager to show him my newest song, I sincerely doubted his interest, as I rarely felt he actually liked any of my work.

And I felt challenged, as if what he was REALLY asking was, “what have you got to say for yourself? Give an accounting of what you’ve accomplished to justify your existence!” It almost felt like an attack, although I’m pretty sure that wasn’t his conscious intention.

‘Tis the season for Christmas letters, and as one might expect, we didn’t receive as many as we have in earlier years; 2020 was a year of delays, postponements and cancellations, so many of us didn’t have as much to report. (Maybe it’s enough that we survived!?)

Which reminds me of the first attempt we made in 1984, to include a Christmas letter in with the greeting cards we mailed to family and friends; we’d moved precipitously from Chicago to Los Angeles (on a wing & a prayer, AKA hope & credit cards!?), and had recently purchased our first computer. The word processing program had a

We didn’t have much actual NEWS to share, and were frankly floundering, trying to get our bearings in a new market. But after 6 months on the west coast, we still felt hopeful we could break into the Hollywood music biz, and we included all of the new people we’d met since our move on our mailing list, many of whom we hadn’t followed up on after our initial meetings. We hoped the holiday letter could be a way to reconnect and perhaps build relationships.

We got one response that took our breath away; an anonymous recipient of our holiday greetings had gone to the trouble to write a very snarky letter back, using the same format. Since we didn’t really know many of the folks we’d mailed to, we puzzled for weeks over who we had offended so grievously! And we haven’t written many Christmas letters since then!

Since the advent of social media, bragging rights aren’t limited to Christmas letters or websites, or even blogs. And I’ve posted on this subject before: https://marilyn801.wordpress.com/2020/09/30/enough-to-be/ and https://marilyn801.wordpress.com/2019/11/14/getting-off-the-hamster-wheel/ So it’s pretty obvious that it’s something I’m still chewing on. But I’m pretty sure that eventually I’ll find my freedom – I can almost taste it!

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family, Home

Thanksgiving Smiles

I’ve posted before about a long-ago Thanksgiving… https://marilyn801.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/thanksgiving-1972/ and there have been other memorable celebrations, such as the holiday feasts at Kevin & John’s house, where 30+ people crowded around one table – a VERY lively group indeed!

Host John & Chef Kevin!

One year we stopped by our friend’s 2-flat in Wrigleyville (after having endured a glum church dinner); Pete’s friends were theater folk and we had SUCH a great time hanging out with them… and then were sent home with a LOT of leftover pies! YUM!

This year we’re staying pretty much low-carb, so… no pies!! And there won’t be anywhere near as many HUGS as I’d like. But I’ve recently reflected that every day, year ’round, I get plenty of smiles from my loved ones; on FaceBook, in emails, and framed in the living room. I’m grateful to have so much love surrounding me; whether from people still on earth or dearly departed, they warm my heart beyond measure. Until this pandemic passes, I’ll content myself with these and count myself incredibly blessed! 🍁

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family, growing up, music biz, politics

The Mail Must Go Thru

All the current scuttlebutt about destroying the Post Office brings to mind the many times I’ve interacted with the USPS; from early childhood I remember how special it was to receive a card or letter from Nana – with MY NAME on the envelope! – and how I signed up for penpals thru ‘TEEN magazine (which I subscribed to and received in the mail every month!!)

Getting mail is a privilege and a right for Americans thru our Constitution and it’s illegal and immoral to attempt to destroy this precious service that helps us communicate and stay connected.

Over the years I wrote and received letters and cards I treasure to this day; a letter from a neighbor who had moved away, encouraging me to keep writing poems and songs when I was a teenager, a stack of love letters and greeting cards from when my husband and I were courting, the final PAID-IN-FULL invoice from my college loans, and decades of letters from my dad… might not matter to anyone else but they sure mean a lot to ME!

One of my favorite memories of receiving mail was when Mark and I lived in NYC and would receive thick envelopes every month or two from his dad, who lived in Tucson. Enclosed with his note would be a stack of coupons he’d clipped from newspapers and magazines. In the early 1980s, Tucson was a test market for a lot of new products, so there would be coupons for items we’d never even heard of…! Dad LOVED his bargains and we felt like we could splurge trying out new things because we had those coupons he’d sent to us!

Mostly we knew he was thinking of us, and that was the best thing of all. Nothing takes the place of a letter from home.

We depend on our postal service to ship our sheet music and CD recordings to our customers. Reliance on the USPS is a non-partisan issue; personal and professional. The difficulties being heaped on our postal service now are indefensible; at every turn, postal employees are being cheated, service hours are being truncated and critical deliveries are being delayed. Today I spoke with our carrier who delivered a shipment from Germany, bills and advertising circulars and a box of vitamin supplements – and I reassured her, “we have your back. We’re union people, too. And America will not let the postal service die!”

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family, Home

A Horse Named Willard Scott

Where it all began

Sometime in the early 1980s my Dad took the train from NYC to visit his younger brother, who lived in the harbor section of downtown Baltimore. Daddy was an avid walker, and on a whim, (between card games, probably), they strolled over to Pimlico racetrack for an afternoon’s amusement, as Uncle Larry and Aunt Katie would do on occasion. None of them were schooled in the vagaries of gambling on the ponies, but noticing that a horse named Willard Scott was set to run, my dad placed his first bet; the odds were 20 to 1, Willard Scott won and my dad went away $150 richer.

Willard Scott – yee-ha!

He never looked back. The Sport of Kings took over; it became a passion. His lifelong enthusiasms (books, records, acting, writing, movies, playing ukulele, banjo, guitar, etc.) all took a backseat as he worked tirelessly perfecting his handicapping “system”. Sometimes he would win, but mostly he’d lose. Then he’d go back and make further adjustments.

His namesake didn’t earn as much as the clown/weatherman, but all told, the horse did okay!!

All of this constant tweaking would need to be shared with his loved ones as he puzzled out the permutations… with brother Larry, of course, who had gotten him started – and each of his daughters in turn, none of whom had ever expressed even the slightest interest in his methodology. He wrote out his theories (and even got some published!). He spent countless days taking the subway+bus out to Aquaduct or Belmont Park where he could place his tiny 1-dollar bets (to test out his theories), and spend time with his fellow gamblers. If he felt tired, he’d just go downstairs and place the minimum 2-dollar bets at the corner OTB storefront. Nonstop daily study and research of the racing form was a given.

“Like to see some stuck-up jockey boy sittin’ on Dan Patch?”

Once when Larry and Katie were visiting him in NYC, my dad insisted on showing off Belmont Park. After a winning afternoon, as they drove back from Queens into Manhattan, instead of calling it a day, Dad decided it would be a good idea to keep going on out to the Meadowlands in New Jersey, where they could engage in nighttime sulky racing. None of them had a clue what made that sport tick, however, and they lost all they’d won earlier in the day. I don’t think my dad ever bet on a harness race again.

pretty as a picture!

Having grown up with the idea that he was an intellectual fellow, I never understood my father’s fascination with the ponies, and why the ravenous hunger to WIN!!! took him over. I was glad that this desire was kept in check to the degree that he didn’t borrow money from the mob to feed his habit, though – and I loved watching him get SO excited about it, even if it never made sense to me. All I know for sure is that it engaged his mind, heart and soul – it made him happy – and happy is a good way for a Harris to be!

March 1995 at Aquaduct
Excerpt from CELEBRATIONS by Richard W. Harris
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