Archive for June, 2012

I have figured it out.

I’ve figured out why I am never at home away from the water.

When I was a kid growing up in Branford, the onset of summer signaled the annual pilgrimage to Page’s Sport Shop on Main Street to pick up a copy of the Tide Table. The Tide Table ruled my life in the summer. It determined what time of day I would pedal my bike over to Hotchkiss Grove Beach or Branford Point in order to hit high tide and the best swimming with my friends who haunted the same beaches (we lived a barefoot, semi-feral existence in the summer months)….unless I wanted to combine swimming with a search for shells or seaglass or digging for clams, in which case it was a fine art determining when to hit the beach so that the tide would be coming in just when I finished collecting my treasures and I could once again make my home in the waves.

Some years ago, I saw the movie “The Secret of Roan Inish” which unfolds something like a fairy tale and includes, among many themes, the Celtic myth of the selkie– if indeed a myth it be. A selkie is a seal who can assume human form by removing its skin, though the sea always remains its true home. In the movie, a man discovers that the woman he has fallen in love with is a selkie. He marries her, hiding her sealskin to keep her on land, and she goes about in a state of wistful longing until she finally discovers the skin and returns to the sea.

Well, that explains it. I don’t live anywhere near salt water now, alas, but I am constantly seeking water…As I float along in one of the local lakes, invariably my eyes close and I imagine I am back at one of the craggy beaches in Connecticut, or in Nantucket, or Prince Edward Island. In a pinch, even a pool will do, as I have vivid powers of imagination. But always and everywhere, in lake or pond or rain puddle, I am seeking the sea.

In “The Secret of Roan Inish” there are scenes where seals are bobbing their heads above water, then disappearing beneath the surface, closely watching the doings of human beings from a safe distance. I saw a similar scene in Nantucket last summer when a family of seals appeared along the horizon line, popping up above the surface and then plunging back down to the depths. It reminded me of those days on the beaches of my youth, when Peter, Beth, Joey, and I, with whoever else might be there, played a game called Marco Polo, diving and surfacing over and over again trying to escape whoever was “it.”

I’ve figured out my true identity. And why I am always homesick away from the water. And why I am always just a little outside the world of human beings.

If I could just find where that sealskin is hidden.

(Painting by Jessica Shirley. Visit her art blog: http://www.jessicashirley.blogspot.com/)


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Alas, there was no winner for my first Giveaway Quiz. Maybe I’ll try this again sometime, but for all of you who are dying to know, here are the answers to last Friday’s quiz:

1. The drawing room in the post “the wounds give life” was the drawing room in the old TV version of “Dark Shadows” which ran from the late 60s to the early 70s. I always felt right at home there!

2. My banner photo shows Flirtation Point in Pine Orchard, Branford, Connecticut.

3. The town in the first photo in “no lasting city” is Greenfield, Massachusetts. That’s Main Street, and the current name of the business on the right is Baker Office Supply.

4. The artist of the sketch in “failure” is Vincent Van Gogh.

5. Besides the New Testament, St. Therese always carried a copy of the Imitation of Christ by St. Thomas a Kempis.

6. Three books Branfordgirl likes: see my sidebar for a selection of books I like which are available on Amazon (and Branfordgirl will earn a few pennies if you navigate there from this site and make a purchase). I also listed a number of books in my post “it’s all for you.”

7. What’s so special about Branford, Connecticut? Well, here’s my answer: it’s Branfordgirl’s hometown!

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When I was growing up, we lived with my grandmother, Alice Weisheit Collins. Her husband, Jeremiah (“Pop”) Collins, had died before I was born, and my grandmother was the matriarch of the family. She was a gourmet cook and talented gardener of naturalized perennial flowers. I had lived on my own for years before I realized that the reason everyone’s yard did not have beautiful fairy bowers, mounds of blue iris against a backdrop of mint, and other wonders like those I romped through in my youth was because of Angy’s unique skill at making the plants look like they had appeared on their own.

Angy was the organist at my childhood parish, St. Mary Church in Branford, Connecticut:

This photo is of the church (and rectory to the left) that I knew in my youth;  it was destroyed by arson in the early 1970s and replaced with the more modern structure that exists today. But back in the day, every week my grandmother mounted the ancient steps to the organ loft to play the organ at Sunday Mass.

The highlight of every year was accompanying Angy to the annual Cat Show held at the Branford Armory. (Another day I’ll tell you about the time my friends and I painted flowers and peace symbols all over the army tank on display on the Armory lawn in 1980, just before we left for college. From then right up until the tank was– sadly– removed last year, if you looked carefully, you could see that the swirls of the camouflage paint were carefully applied to cover our artwork).

We were a “cat family” and the cat show was a wonderland of Abyssinians, Persians, Siamese, Manx, Russian Blues, and other exotic breeds.  Angy, my sister Julie, and I spent hours admiring the felines, watching the judging, picking our favorites. The event had only one flaw: the maddening repetition of exactly ONE song, over and over again, on the sound system. That song was Mairzy Doats, and after hearing it ten, twenty times and more in succession, it was over a week before you could get it out of your head:

My grandmother was a soprano who, in 1920, founded the Branford Musical Arts Society, an organization which fulfills its original purpose to this day:  to promote the love of music in the town of Branford. She also gave singing lessons in our home, although for the privilege of taking lessons with Alice Collins, her students– the sopranos, anyway– would have to tolerate being accompanied by the howling of our dachshund, Handsome Dan. But despite her quirks, Angy was a legitimate musician.

However, the day after the Cat Show, Angy must have been a little distracted up in the choir loft. The Processional and the Offertory were the usual traditional Catholic hymns. Even the first Communion hymn was nothing out of the ordinary. But a few moments later, as I returned from receiving Holy Communion to piously take my place in the pew, Angy’s fingers started wandering over the organ keys, and I heard– perhaps unnoticed by others but unmistakeable to someone who had attended the Cat Show– the lilting strains of Mairzy Doats.

Granted, there is a Lamb reference in the piece. So maybe it can be justified somehow. I had always thought my grandmother was distracted by that maddening song and had started playing it subconsciously. The truth is, she played it for us, Julie and I. A little bit of grandmotherly humor from the organ loft. That’s liturgical music– Branford style.

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This week, I am launching my very first Branfordgirl Giveaway Quiz! My “seven quick takes” will consist of “seven quick questions,” all based on information in my blog posts (some are under Archives), plus a little light internet research. The first reader to respond (via the “leave a comment” button) with 7 correct answers will win a $10.00 gift certificate to http://www.Amazon.com. Responses will be accepted until midnight Monday night and on Tuesday the lucky winner will be announced. Have fun! Your friend, Branfordgirl.

— 1 —

Identify the drawing room in the photo in the post “the wounds give life.”

— 2 —

What specific location on the Branford shoreline is shown in my banner photo? (Tough one. Search hints: it’s black and white, right? And the name contains the word “Point.”)

— 3 —

What town in western Massachusetts is shown in the first vintage photo in the post “no lasting city”? (Hint: the business on the right that the man is walking past still exists, under a slightly altered name).

— 4 —

Who is the artist of the chalk sketch of the woman with her head in her hands in the post “failure”? Hint: it was completed in 1883.

— 5 —

In my post “my Bible problem,” I mentioned that St. Therese always carried a copy of the New Testament. What other book did she always carry ?(Hint: she had memorized it by age 15).

— 6 —

Name three books Branfordgirl likes.

— 7 —

Name something special about Branford, Connecticut. Yes, I know, this is purely subjective and completely unfair but all sincere replies will be counted as correct!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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ImageThe dream came night after night. In the dream, I sat bolt upright in the bedroom I shared with my sister in the house in Branford that was built by my Irish great-grandfather. I turned, my feet touched the floor, and I was on my way down the narrow wooden stairs to the drawing room. I stood at my usual post before the window with the filmy, cigarette-smoke tainted curtains from which I could see every doorway that led from this darkened room. This was the worst part; as I stood watch, the noise became unbearable. It was the hum of the oil burner. In daylight, activity and conversation would drown out the sound; it was scarcely noticeable. But tonight, as I stood alone in my nightgown with bare feet on the cold wooden floor, keeping vigil while the house slept, it grew louder, louder, almost deafening, but I stood firm. Then, the dream faded and I awoke.Image

Years later, I recounted this dream to my sister, the dream that haunted me every night as a young girl. What she said gave me a chill: “It wasn’t a dream. You really did that. I remember it. You were sleepwalking.”

It made my blood run cold to think that what I thought was only a scary dream had been a nightly reality. At age five or six, I had become the nocturnal guardian and protector of my family.

My parents were loving but troubled. My mother, one of nine children of Polish peasants and the only one with a college education, was highly intelligent and had a poetic soul, but she was a drunk. My father, a Yale grad with a keen Irish sense of humor, was shell-shocked and tormented by memories of his experiences as a Marine on Okinawa and Guadalcanal during World War II. There was rarely enough money, things were always a bit precarious, and though I treasure countless delights and happy memories from my childhood, there was always the sense that something…might….happen.

I recently read something interesting about sleepwalking: during sleepwalking, the person arises and performs, in a low state of consciousness, activities that are usually performed during a state of full consciousness. Yes. That makes sense. I remember being invited to a sleepover at a friend’s in Hotchkiss Grove, but a couple of hours into the evening I had to call for a ride home. I had to be there; I was afraid my parents would not be okay without me. That something would…happen. At bedtime each night, I would line up my many stuffed animals to kiss each one goodnight, making sure not to miss a single one of my charges because, well, they would be sad, and something might…well, you know, happen. As adults, my siblings and I have joked about what we call the “Collins hyper-vigilance,” a trait we all share to some extent. Even our family coat of arms bears the image of a pelican plucking its own breast, while our family motto is Dant Vulnera Vitam: The Wounds Give Life.Image

The wounds give life.Those words bring others like them to mind. Isaiah 53:5 reads:

But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.

And I Peter 2:24 tells us,

He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

Jesus suffered so that we would be healed of sin, so that we would have eternal life. Alone on the cross, He held back the tide of evil that threatened us. In the Mass, like the pelican plucking its own breast to feed its young, He feeds us His own body and blood to give us life.Image

But there is more. When Jesus appeared to the Polish nun St. Faustina Kowalska, he revealed to her that what wounds His heart most deeply is our lack of trust in Him. He wants us to trust Him completely, so much so that he asked St. Faustina to have this image of His Divine Mercy painted, showing blood and water pouring from His side along with the words “Jesus I trust In You” so that we would never forget that He is standing watch:Image

The little Branford girl can go to sleep now. Jesus is there.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;

for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. -Psalm 4:8

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You wouldn’t know it by my messy house or failure to accessorize, but I have an eye for detail. This dates from way back in childhood, when my nickname was Mouse and my small stature (at the time) brought me eye to eye with the world of tiny things. Of all my many stuffed animals, a three-inch teddy bear was my favorite.

My failing eyesight confirms that this habit is not a matter of superior vision but of perception; I seek out the small and hidden. As an acupuncturist, my eyes and fingertips were trained to find a specific point on the body so infinitesimally precise that the finest needle could be placed there and nowhere else to heal an illness. As an antique dealer, I learned to notice subtle differences that distinguished a piece of authentic Staffordshire pottery from a knock-off. As an herbalist, when I take a walk I habitually scan the environment, whether dusty roadside or woodland or meadow, seeking medicinal plants (I’m good at finding four-leafed clovers too). As a mother, I know where virtually every tiny Lego or microscopic Polly Pocket shoe have been dropped by childish hands (picking them up is another matter).

Today as my children and I walked to Mass, I was scanning around as usual and my eyes fell on a small broken robin’s egg under a tree. As I usually do when I find birds’ eggs, I looked up for evidence of the nest, and there it was, also small and hidden, amid leafy branches. Up there, some mother and father bird had watched the tiny egg crack open, and later, urged the fledgling to the edge of the nest for its first flight, all out of sight of the big busy world of human beings below. While no one noticed or cared, something very important was happening in the life of a very small creature. Just yesterday, my daughter (who has the gene) assembled a box containing an abandoned birds’ nest, some dried plants, and a small seashell, and she asked if she could have the eggshell for her collection. I told her yes, but to be on the safe side, I cradled it in the palm of my hand all the way to Mass, and all the way home again.

At church, I was preparing for Mass using my favorite vintage prayer book, Mary My Hope, and reflecting on how God prefers the humble. ImageIn fact, He seeks out the small and hidden. The lowlier we are, the less worthy of notice, the less significant we are in the world’s eyes, the more God’s eyes of love are seeking us out; the more His heart of love hears our every word, our every silent anguished thought or dream or prayer. He seeks us out, lowly as we are, as He sought among thousands for the humble virgin who would be the mother of his Son.

Mary seeks us too. Like the mother she is, she knows where we have mislaid everything. She knows our hearts, the things we cannot say, the things no one else is asking or wants to hear. She holds our hand in hers because, like a mother, she does not want us to become lost or broken. She seeks and finds us, and she cradles us in the palm of her hand, all the way home.

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