Archive for January, 2011

The morning began with my son and I looking out the back window at birds coming into our back yard for a crust of bread. The bread was the left over loaf from our dinner two night ago. The little birds, common winter sparrows, seemed very happy to peck at the crust.

The day continued with the coming and goings of our business day. By workdays end, there was one new iPhone in the house, one admission to Harvard, one trip to Cambridge for the evening.

In Cambridge, there was one lost book reunited with Widener Library, one Magazine Writing class. There was one dinner with the children and Bud and Armando’s pizza, and one trip to the Coop.

There was a ride home. There were stars and fog and and airplanes landing at Logan. There was singing and playing on Nintendo DS’s, and texting (the passengers). Then there was raucous singing of Disney movie themes.

There was the exit to New Bedford, Buttonwood Park all blanketed with snow. The war monument in the park’s rotary was snow capped, the Art Deco figures wearing capes and hats of snow.

There was Maple Street and our house lit up. There was the emptying of the van, and the greeting of the pets. Home.

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Maid Maleen

It’s been an interesting week of inner work. I found my guide for writing my memoir. It is a book called, “Write Your Memoir” by Dr. Allan G. Hunter. I found him by googling Neil Gaiman, (who, btw, has extra cred because my first awareness of him came through my NY daughter – Neil is a certified nice guy.).

Fairy Tales were one of my own first organizing principles. When I finally could read, thanks to the efforts of my mother. (See? I was home schooled for a while too). Anyway, when I finally crossed the line between the illiterate and the literate, when I learned my last name was Burkhalter, and my father’s rank was unreadable but pronounced, lew-tenant, before everything fell apart, before, before Daddy went to Vietnam, before my grandmother died. Before, before, when life was simple and really nothing had happened, but fate’s shadow loomed.

I was a little girl in a bed in the middle of the night in Pampanga. On a US Air Force Base (now closed) called Clark. I lived in the shadow of a volcano (dead, some say but really only sleeping). Acacia trees shaded the house and in the morning Julie, the cook, would be there with her sparkley rhinestone cat-eye glasses. If I asked, she would tell me about the war.

As that little girl with two long black braids and a sister asleep across the room, I would read. And the ceiling fan would whir and cast a moving shadow on the peach colored walls and the slats of the old bungalow, built in the 1900’s when the place was Fort Stotsenberg, would be the gates for the gheckos (butiki) who would dart and dash and leave their tails behind.

In that tropical darkness I opened Grimm’s and went travelling deep into the night. I remember being baffled at the darkness around the edges.

Raising my own children, I pointed them to Grimm’s. Last night I opened and read Maid Maleen in the middle of the night.

In my world now, my sleeping husband (my good prince), the jade walls of my room, the sounds of the children laughing downstairs (they are on school break) – the thousand comforts of my present life surround me.

I read the story of the princess whose father had her walled in a tower because she opposed him. He walled her into a tower with enough food and drink for seven years. Her maid was her companion. They lived in total darkness for seven years, then, decided to take action.

Their tool was a bread knife, and for three days they worked and worked and created first a hole, then a window, then a door.

And her father’s kingdom was in ruins.

And here I see the parallels to my life and I wake up as if on two cups of coffee and my head reeling I want to wake my husband up and tell him. But I don’t. Being 54, with gray hair, I can wait until morning.

The princess has another great adventure in the second half of the story. She did live happily ever after. Read Grimm’s and see where it takes you.

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Fairy Tales are Real

Last night I went upstairs into the attic to look for a sea green quilt. I did not see the quilt, but the darkness of the space was broken by the skylight. In the middle of the skylight, through the trees was a silver slipper of a moon.

I went downstairs and my daughter told me about this.

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The day before yesterday on my ramble through downtown New Bedford, I ended up at the library in the old stacks. There is was, the autobiography of Rudyard Kipling.

He had a typical happy British babyhood in India, with a loving family, kind ayah and all the colors and scents of a hot, tropical landscape. It reminded me very much of Rumer Godden’s childhood description.

When Kipling was five, his parents took him back to England and left him to be educated by a woman who ran a sort of boarding house for English expatriate children.  She had a kind husband, who died on cue.. Yes, dear readers, once the kind person dies in a story, the gate to hell opens up and the devilish romp begins.

Kipling was beaten day and night. In the day by the harridan Mrs. Holloway and at night by her slavey son. This went on for five years. He had a nervous breakdown, and lost his eyesight. Then it reached the ears of his kind but oblivious aunt.

His mother was sent for, he was rescued, and after a period of healing his life returned to a kind of normalcy. H wrote:

“Children tell little more than animals, for what comes to them they accept as eternally established. Also, badly treated children have a clear notion of what they are likely to get if they betray the secrets of a prison-house before they are clear of it.”

I cannot ever say that abuse makes a better person, but to suffer innocently as a child is a terrible thing that shapes the rest of your life. Not only the abused child suffers, but also the witnesses, who become compromised in their integrity.

The abuser makes cowards out of the witnesses. And on and on. There is little sympathy for abused children within a family system, from my observation.

When Kipling was a young man, he got a journalism job back in India, in the city where his parents lived.

“We delighted more in each other’s society than in that of strangers; and when my sister came out, a little later, our cup was filled to the brim. Not only were we happy, but we knew it.”

And all this because of one book, pulled from a shelf on the second floor of the downtown New Bedford Library.

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I had a full day of fun yesterday. It began with the knowledge that a dream come true was within grasp.


For years I have wanted a space in downtown New Bedford. I particularly liked the studio space of a dear friend. Suddenly I realized, her place was up to share!


So now I have a place to write and look out the window. There are high ceilings and congenial neighbors and wifi.

It is upstairs from No Problemo! and across the street from Cafe Arpeggio. It is steps away from the Research Library, and the New Bedford Main Library (where I once saw a man in 19th century garb reading primly by the window.). Down the cobblestone street, there is the Celtic Coffee House and the Whaling Museum. Around the corner is the Blessed Sacrament chapel full of the Presence and the aroma of candles at Our Lady’s Chapel.

I feel at the brink of a great new adventure, and I don’t even have to move. Everything I love about this place will be downstairs and around the corner. My artist daughter will have vast space and light to paint.

I will have a sunny window and view of a street. Across the street is my friend Celia’s boutique with her beautiful clothes from Montreal, and Hibernia the Irish Pub. A few blocks away is Spicy Lime, our favorite for family celebrations and out of town guests. On the way there is Ginger Grill for Korean food. When we moved here in 1997, downtown was a quiet and hopeful place.

New Bedford is that kind of place, a port in the storm of life, a place where beauty abounds in small unexpected glimpses. The sun shines on a building, the clouds fly overhead. Between cobbled streets a startling blue of the ocean, and the pretty skyline of Fairhaven.

I just heard that dear old New Bedford has the highest unemployment rate in Massachusetts. So we need more people to bring business here. We have hard working people and the prettiest architecture. ¬†Herman Melville said that New Bedford was – “the dearest place to live in, in all New England.”

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