Baucis and Philemon

P. and T. kiss in public.  A swift, light peck on the lips, so full of tenderness and respect.  T. squeezes P.’s hand and he holds it, drawing strength from its warmth and reassurance.  I watch them in awe.  They are a handsome couple.  Tall, slim, with undeniable presence.  There is something unique about them.  A beauty I can’t put my finger on.  A quality of being fully alert, fully in the present, fully alive.  The beauty of survivors, of those who have grown a garden full of flowers despite life’s storms and gales. A silvery glow surrounds them.  Silver dust particles float in the air and gently land on you if you come close enough.

 

At T.’s eightieth birthday party, the many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren she and P. share have erected a marquee in the garden, because the house isn’t large enough to accommodate all those who have travelled to join in the celebrations.  There’s a jazz band.  The place is heaving with friends and relatives of all ages.  These aren’t just guests.  They’re individuals whose lives have been in some way or other touched by P. or T., or both.  A friend comes up to me, who has known T. and P. for several decades.  “They truly enrich other people’s lives,” she says.  I agree. 

 

All of us there have a speck of silver dust embedded in our skin. 

 

P. has an authoritative yet velvety storyteller’s voice that changes fluidly from North American to English.  I love listening to him reading poetry on the radio.  I also love sitting at their massive, round, pale wood kitchen table, sipping whisky and listening to him explaining life, death and the universe according to Samuel Beckett.  His lean face is lined with furrows life has filled with passion for words, ideas and, of course, the theatre.  

 

We are sitting in the lounge, by the fireplace, P.’s blue-green eyes light up and he gets carried away expressing his admiration for Tennessee Williams.  He has forgotten that there’s a bowl of olives in his hand, and that it’s slowly tilting.  T. comes out of the kitchen.  She presses her lips together.  “P.!!” she finally snaps with loving frustration.  He rushes to his feet, his bushy eyebrows raised, and begins to pass around the olives. 

 

When we go to stay with them, I feel as though I’ve come home from home.  Digging into the heartiest, richest, most comforting cauliflower and cheese you’ve ever tasted, w give T. our various bits of news.  To everything I say, she reacts with intensity.  Her surprise is genuine, her shock outraged, her sympathy deep-felt, her delight joyful, her excitement passionate, and her laugh like a gurgling spring that rises from the depths of the earth.  There is an impish twinkle in her dark brown eyes.

 

T. and P.’s friendship is not a static feeling, it is an action that carries, depending on the need, hugs, advice or weapons to defend you.  If they wrap you in their friendship, then they don’t merely stand and watch your life but take part in it.  For them, to love is to get involved, and not be a dispassionate bystander.  They will nurture you, and fight for you.  They are the kind of friends you know it is an indescribable privilege to have in your life.  A glow with silver particles that land on your skin, and become embedded in it.

 

Scribe Doll   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
A lovely portrait. And cauliflower and cheese sounds marvelous.
Monday, 02 March 2015 05:21
Katherine Gregor
So glad you like it. Thank you for commenting.
Monday, 02 March 2015 08:13
Rosy Cole
A vivid evocation of what love truly is and what we seem to have long forgotten. It shows how impoverished and denatured our moder... Read More
Monday, 02 March 2015 11:11
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6 Comments

Winter and the Art of Trusting

One of my recurring nightmares is missing Christmas.  When I am under intense stress and feel like I am losing control of my life, I start dreaming that, somehow or other, I’ve overslept, miscalculated the dates, forgot to look at the calendar, or simply got stuck at work, and Christmas has passed me by.  And I get very upset.  I love Christmas.  For about two weeks of the year.  This year, however, I am resenting the seasonal bullying which kicked in minutes after Hallowe’en.  I find myself cowering under its aggressiveness and wishing I could hide in a dark corner where I could fall asleep until until Twelfth Night.  

 

In every shop, there are representations of Santa Claus.  An old man with flushed cheeks, paunch, bright red costume and vacant eyes, and who seems capable of uttering the monosyllabic "Ho! Ho! Ho!" My heart sinks.

 

Keep that Santa Claus. 

 

Instead, give me a Father Frost – a Sir Christèmas – with a knowing face, and a cloak like the earth – green and brown and gold, glistening with icicles and embroidered with frost patterns.  A shapeshifter with hazel eyes and the arcane knowledge of Merlin, who knows words to move the elements, spells and incantations; who's as old and wise as the earth.  A winter Green Man whose silver hair will grow dark again, and pale skin will turn brown,  on the morning of the Spring Equinox.

 

I pull the box of Christmas CDs from under the bed.  Bing Crosby and the rest of the Fellowship of Crooners.  No.  I cannot abide the saccharine this year.  I take out a recording of Mediaeval carols, conducted by Andrew Parrott.  Songs full of mystery, hope and awe.    

 

Trust.  Christmas is about trust.  Trust that magic exists.  Trust that goodwill and love truly exist.  Trust that words will be kept and intentions carried out.  Trust that all will be well.  After all, isn’t Winter all about trust?  Trust that beneath the frozen, hard earth bright green shoots are sprouting, even though we will not see them for months, yet.  Trust that the cold and bleakness will eventually give way to sunshine and blossoms.  Trust that, next year, things will be better.  Trust, though at times, you feel you have little evidence to fuel your hopes.  And trust is about waiting.  Waiting patiently.  

 

The branches of the oak tree outside my window are bare.  I strain to remember the luxuriating glossy green foliage that dressed it not three months ago.  I strain to imagine tiny green buds sprouting on it once more.  But I must wait and trust.  Wait for the tree to be ready and trust that it will be. 

 

I pour a few drops of pine needle and rosemary essential oil into the pottery burner, and put peel of an orange on the radiator.  Their scents mingle and fill the room with Yuletide.  It’s evening, and I light the red Advent candle on my table.  I sit in the armchair by the window.  Up in the sky, the Moon has a soft glow and a deeply sympathetic expression.  Her beams are washing over the dark branches of my oak tree.  I understand, she seems to whisper, trusting is hard, but do trust – all will be well.  I catch a glimpse of something at the foot of the oak.  I look down and meet the amber gaze of a fox.  His eyes catch the headlights of a passing car.  He shudders, cowers, but then straightens up and looks up at my window again.  The Moon is speaking the truth, he seems to say.  He looks peeved with my doubts.  Trust, his eyes command.  In their glint, I see something ancient and arcane.  Suddenly, the fox is a fox no more, but a tall figure standing against the trunk of the oak.  I blink and it’s vanished.  Once again, the fox is staring up at me and his eyes are merry and wise.  I stare back.  For a fraction of a second, I thought he’s turned into a tall man with a knowing face and a cloak like the earth – green and brown and gold, glistening with icicles and embroidered with frost patterns.

 

I will trustI do trust, I reply.

 

 

Scribe Doll    

(This is an edited version of the piece published on Wordpress last year)

 

Recent Comments
Nicholas Mackey
In your writing, Katya you always take your dear reader to this magical place where it is fun to explore with you and to hear your... Read More
Thursday, 11 December 2014 16:09
Katherine Gregor
Thank you, Nicholas. And a happy Christmas and New Year to you, too.
Thursday, 11 December 2014 16:35
Monika Schott
What a beautiful story. I could see children listening to this in total wonderment! Marry Christmas to you. x
Thursday, 11 December 2014 18:54
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A Nomad to Guard Someone Else's Land

My Armenian grandmother, Yekaterina Gregorian, passed away in March 2012, at the age of one hundred.  Several years ago, when, blind and almost deaf (but her mind as sharp as a needle), she was moved from my mother’s to a nursing home, I raided her cupboards and drawers, grabbing anything I thought should be kept safe, intending to go through it at a later date.  Although that was, technically, my mother’s job, I was worried that – with all the pressure of her own frequent house moves – she might overlook something.  Or else that she would discard something as merely sentimental and, therefore, not worth holding onto.   I come from a family who has not owned a property since the Soviets confiscated the little my great-grandparents had, nearly a hundred years ago, and who has moved from country to country for now three generations.  We have moved through marriage, political unrest, lack of opportunity, or simply because we heard it said that such-or-such a country was better than the one we were currently in.  I, for one, have moved house forty-four times, so far.  I imagine if you do not have the security of a place to live from where no one can boot you out, there is nothing stopping you from chasing after dreams over mountains and over seas.  After all, if you have no solid roots to anchor you to a piece of soil, then you ride on any alluring gust of wind.

Among my grandmother’s personal possessions, there was not much.  Certainly nothing of any financial value.  The upside of having nothing, is that there are never any family fights over bequests.  There is nothing to fight over when there is nothing material to inherit.  I know that is where both my grandmother’s and mother’s quasi obsessive thirst for knowledge and education comes from – one that was drilled into me from at early age.  Learn, learn, learn – languages and skills.  You have nothing except what is inside your head.  At any moment, you could lose your home, your spouse, your friends.  But your knowledge is yours.  No change in government or affections can take that away from you.  Gold is too heavy to carry, banknotes lose value, but acquiring a new language is always a good investment – because every new language gives you a new perspective.

When The Red Room posted the theme of finding something in your attic that reveals a fascinating piece of family history, as a blog challenge, I decided the time had come to spill the contents of the plastic envelope containing what I had salvaged from my grandmother’s things, on the kitchen table.  There is a small cloth-bound notebook with recipes  transcribed, out-of-date documents (one with a picture of my grandmother at the age of seventeen), letters her mother sent her from the Soviet Union after my grandmother married an Iranian diplomat and moved to Teheran.  A couple of the letters are cut up, with paragraphs missing beneath jagged edges.  Soviet censorship.  There is also a land deed, dated 1902, complete with the Russian Imperial seal.  Several pages of thick yellowed paper, sewn together with a cotton thread.  I have difficulty deciphering the old legal Russian language but understand it testifies as to the acquisition through inheritance of a plot of land containing a small house and a vegetable garden.  It belongs to a man whose name I do not recognise.  There is also a map, traced in different coloured inks, outlining this plot of land.  Where this land is situated, though, I cannot work out.  The names written in the legal document no longer exist, probably changed by various incoming political regimes.  What is someone else’s land deed doing among such personal family keepsakes? I studied the map, wondering.  Then a word, and image, a recollection at a time, a memory began to take shape.  I remembered odds and ends from something my grandmother used to tell me, long ago.

Your grandfather helped this man.  

He always helped people.

This Russian man fled from the Soviet Union.  They had taken everything from him.

He wanted to go to America.

Your grandfather helped him get the papers.

The man was so grateful to your grandfather.  He left him the land deed – what good would it be to him in America? He gave it to your grandfather for safe-keeping in case, one day, the Soviet Union collapsed, and borders would be opened once again.

My grandfather gave the documents to my grandmother, and told her to keep them safe.  “You never know,” he said, “life can be strange.  Perhaps, someday, our children or grandchildren will meet an American, by chance.   He’ll tell them his father or grandfather once owned a piece of land in Russia.  Our child or grandchild can then give him good news, say he still owns this land, and hand him the deed back.” 

And so it seems I have in my possession that land deed, for a plot which belongs by rights perhaps to an American of Russian descent, somewhere across the Atlantic.  Life is strange.  Nobody in my family has ever owned land in living memory, and here am I, a nomad, yet unwittingly the guardian of someone else’s land.  Life can certainly make you smile.

I will find someone to help me translate the deed, and find out exactly where this land is, and whom it belongs to.  Then I will have all the information I need to be ready and wait.  Wait for a gust of wind to blow me to the rightful owner of this land – or to blow him or her to me.

Scribe Doll

This is a slightly edited version of the article which first appeared on Wordpress in July 2012

 

Recent Comments
Ken Hartke
People have such great stories. Too bad sometimes we learn about them too late to ask questions. I have a friend in his 70s, a tru... Read More
Monday, 04 August 2014 06:30
Katherine Gregor
I think no matter how many questions you ask, there will always be something you forget to enquire about. Or something the other p... Read More
Monday, 04 August 2014 07:32
Rosy Cole
This is a fantastic story, Katia. Your heritage. There's already a structure and a novel arc to it. Even if you're unable to fit t... Read More
Monday, 04 August 2014 18:06
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Trust

Some thoughts on the painting Tobias and the Angel (circa 1470-80) by the Workshop of Verrocchio.  Egg tempera on poplar.  National Gallery, London.

Trust me, if you will.  I am loving, I am infinite, I am immortal.  I do not judge.  I am beyond all fears.  I will guide you if you ask me.  The decision is yours.  I ask nothing of you.

The Archangel Raphael's sandaled feet tread lightly on the rocky soil.  He does not need the reassurance of solid ground beneath him.  He carries certainty in his tall frame, full of androgynous grace.  He turns to look down at the boy.  His face is weary from the centuries of doubt leading up to this attainment of wisdom through knowledge, but he can now draw strength from certainty.

I do not ask blind faith of you, he seems to tell the boy.  You will learn, and only then will you know and be certain.  In the meantime, trust me, if you will.  The choice is yours.

Raphael's wings are scarlet and black.  They were built on the embers of passion and fear.  It cannot have been otherwise.

I do not want white wings.  I want to remember my past.  I was like you, once.  I want to remember the ashes I rose from.

At Raphael's feet, trots the translucent figure of a small dog.  To warn of approaching demons.  He turns back to check that the boy is following.

Trust this stranger, boy.  Trust your heart.  Trust.

Tobias's boots are firm on the ground.  He needs to feel rooted while his cloak billows in the winds of uncertainty.  He has slid a tentative hand onto the stranger's arm.

Let me hold onto you.  I cannot take this journey alone.  Not yet.

The boy stares up at the archangel, mesmerised by the stranger's secret knowledge.  His young body is unsteady, but the faith in his eyes is unwavering.

I want to trust. 

His mind cannot comprehend but his heart knows that he is safe with the stranger.  He does not know, yet.  And yet he knows.

Guide me to this faraway land.  I want to learn. 

I want to trust.  I choose to trust. 

I am glad, says the archangel.   Walk with me.  All will be well.  The world is full of wonders.

 

Scribe Doll

(This piece was  originally published on Wordpress on  21 August 2011)

 

 

 

 

 

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