I made Baked Alaska for our Christmas Eve dessert this year. Mmm.
A dreamy, imaginative girl, I held Baked Alaska up as a symbol of the life I might one day lead as a writer, with an apartment in New York City, trips to Paris, and exotic dinners in fancy restaurants. This was loosely based on movies, music, and my mother telling me about Baked Alaska. It sounded exotic, sophisticated, and divine! I don’t quite remember her circumstances, but I’m fairly certain she must have had that pleasure before she married my father and gave birth to us seven kids in the short span of ten years. As a single woman, she had a fun-loving group of girlfriends, took some wonderful trips with them, spent all the money she earned as a secretary on beautiful suits, hats, and travel. It sounded as if she, my aunt, and their friends most likely treated themselves to a few luxuries on those trips.
My mother played the piano and as a girl, she had dreams of one day being a concert pianist. I imagine that her dream, much like mine, included a polished, sophisticated life, though she never spoke of that. I remember her playing certain pieces as we lay in bed at night–a Chopin waltz, “Anitra’s Dance,” from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite–both of which I later learned. She would not have described herself as dreamy or imaginative, no, but I think I came by those traits naturally. I bet she pictured herself living a very different life from what she ended up living, as did I. I know she didn’t have as much luck or as many choices as I did, to fashion her own life as she wanted, though.
I have zero regrets about the life I’ve had. Oh, I guess I wish I’d been more adventurous when I was young, traveled more, lived larger. I ended up living very far from my heart’s friend, the sea, but here where I am, I have a truly lovely community of friends that I would not give up. No. I did what I was comfortable with, began to love nature far more than I did as a young woman, and found ways to live a creative life with my three wonderful and amazing sons. I have a small house that needs many repairs but which is filled with modest treasures that I and others have created. It’s not in New York City or Paris, but in humble, lovely-in-its-own-way, Missouri. I have a small piano and a somewhat ragtag group of piano students. I paint. I write these letters and you, my darlings, read them. I even figured out how to make Baked Alaska right here in my own kitchen! It’s a wonderful life.
Inspiration comes from surprising places. This week it came in the guise of a dessert that got me thinking about my childhood, my mother, the piano, and my many dreams. That’s the beauty of writing. It takes you on a journey.
“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” ― Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life
“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.”
― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.” ― Michelle Obama, Becoming
If you’d like to see my new paintings online, go quickly here. They will be there through January 5, 2023. (Good God! 2023 already!) Be sure to click on the thumbnails to see the whole picture! If you’re looking for my cards or art, you’ll find all of that on my website. If you enjoy these letters, feel free to forward this one to anyone you think might like it. And if someone forwarded this one to you, you can sign up here to receive the letters right in your Inbox. Finally, you’ll find past letters and poems here.
Thanks for listening,
P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”