Monday, February 11, 2008

I Am From

My good friend Molly of The Molly Bawn Chronicles has tagged me to do this exercise.

After reading hers, I was quite intimidated by its excellence and had no intention of offering my own version. But then she challenged me, and I am far too macho to resist a challenge.

I am from a sandbox my father built with green and white striped awning, from Bazooka Bubble Gum and puppies.

I am from a Cape Cod colonial house with dormers and green shutters that I wished were blue, white picket fence and a terrace that seemed like a mountain to a small child with sled, a secret passageway from my closet to the attic, burning leaves on full-mooned autumn nights, captured fireflies in jars with air holes in the lid and the clatter of birds building nests, the praying mantis on our front door who stayed all summer.

I am from the magnolia tree on the front lawn, picking blackberries in the woods, running through the sprinkler, lying in the cool grass naming kitten-faced pansies, pulling radishes from our Victory garden and daringly eating them without washing off the dirt, peeling rosebuds to force them into bloom before their time as I was expected to act adult before mine.

I am from brilliant Irving, a father who was God all his life, his rock star presence huge although he was not a large man, from beautiful Pearl whose many talents were eclipsed until he died, from Charles the grinning tease and elegant brown-eyed Daisy, from plump Etta of damp kisses and pinching fingers and nearsighted Jack, who wrote poetry for me on lined yellow paper.

I am from book-lined walls, my father's graceful Chopin etudes and watching him, adoring, as he hand-fed brown thrashers in our backyard and collected daily injustices as I collected seashells and stray animals. I am from salty lips and the smell of waves, mustard-soaked hot dogs on the boardwalk, road trips to Washington, DC, Colonial Williamsburg, Canada, Toledo and New Hampshire, where I first saw mountains and knew that God must live there.

From "Don't talk back" and "Stop aggravating me" and never being as docile as girls were "supposed" to be.

I am from resigned Jews who never heard of Chanukah and grudgingly gave us Christmas presents but wouldn't have a tree, who offered no religious training yet expected us to identify with our heritage and were notably displeased by my fumblings toward Catholicism.

I'm from New York and from Russia, England, Germany and Hungary, the lights of Broadway, Lindy's cheesecake and candy apples, demanding my own lobster at Gloucester House at four and eating it, from roast beef and crispy potato pancakes with applesauce, stuffed cabbage and apple pie cooling on the kitchen table.

From the maternal great-great uncle who married a daughter of Emperor Franz Louis Joseph and was disowned by his Orthodox family because she was a shiksa, from my paternal grandmother who so opposed my parent's marriage that they eloped two months before their wedding, my father working his way through night law school as an interpreter in several languages on the NYC docks, my mother finally going to college in her 70's and graduating with honors at 79, and the crippling disease my brother overcame magnificently because he refused to believe he was limited and proved it.

I am from people who came through Ellis Island with nothing but their talents and their willingness to work hard, who depended on themselves to succeed, who became doctors and lawyers and artists, musicians, designers, actors and movie makers, who treasured words and family loyalty, who instilled integrity and independence and determination, the ability to adapt to change, and a love of the natural world.

Though I often felt like a misfit, I was born in the right time and place and the perfect family to learn the lessons I needed to learn and which I am still learning. I wish I could thank them all for their immense gifts to me, especially the ones I resisted, because in those were my greatest teachings.


Maria said...

Lovely. Simply lovely.

molly said...

You know, I thought maybe I had some nerve putting this challenge out, but you make me glad I dared! From reading your posts for about a year now, many of the references rang a bell. I'm waiting for that book. I'll take at least two autographed copies please, when it becomes available! Thanks for doing this!

molly said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kapuananiokalaniakea said...

WOW! THis is brilliant!
LOVE the opening and the way it eases the reader into the rest of the story.
I feel like I know so much more about you now. Thank you so much! Glad you were too macho to resist Molly's challenge.

thailandchani said...


Just "wow".

What a stunning personal history.. remembered and assimilated in such a coherent way. I'm in awe really, being a lousy historian myself. :)

RED MOJO said...

The fawning continues...because it is deserved! That was so wonderful to read. You did such a fantastic job of conveying not only the pictures, and experiences, but the feeling of your childhood and family. Beautifully done.

Jo said...

Omigosh, this is wonderful. Isn't amazing how "I Am From" actually becomes "I Am".

What a great picture this paints of you!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Nicely done and so very fascinating. You are from such a variety of ingredients and influences and as they say, Variety is the Spice of Life. Thanks for doing the challenge.

meggie said...

This is magnificent. A wonderful journey through your heritage, & becoming.
Thankyou for sharing.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Thank you. I'm enjoying your delightful blog so much, too!


I'm glad you dared, too, although I admit to groaning a bit when you tagged me.

Doing this made me oddly happy, so thank you for that as well as your stunning example of how this should be done.


That machismo gets me into trouble every time.

I loved what you did with this exercise and have read it more than once already.


I have near-total recall of my entire life, and that is not always such a blessing. I prefer to focus on the good things because they help me to stay positive.

I didn't always realize I had that choice.


Fawning -- oh, my. Can you do it on demand?

I think I'm gonna like it here.


Yes, we become all that we come from and all that comes to us. And it's always exciting to see how the pieces fit together.


I would very much enjoy reading your version of this one if you do it. You're a particularly fascinating person.


I'm still not sure how I'll turn out, but I'm hoping for the best.

Thank you for coming by from your most beautiful part of the world.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Well said. What an intimidating meme. But you did it powerfully and beautifully!

furiousBall said...

nice, very well done

riseoutofme said...

Beautifully expressed.

I especially loved the last paragraph.

Open Grove Claudia said...

I love this. It's so very very awesome - and wonderful. Thank you for taking the time to do it - so brilliantly.

Really, this is beautiful. I love the compassion and love that shine through for everyone of the people and places you mention.

You inspire!

Odat said...

That was great.
I did one of these a while back too!
And look at that lil beautiful baby, who grew up to be a beautiful and talented woman. Thank you for that!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It IS intimidating. I first read Molly's, and then Rise's, and was stunned by the beauty of their words.

Of course, I'm not Irish, but nobody's perfect.


Thank you!


Writing this made me realize that there was a lot in my childhood that gives me pleasure to recall.

I'm going to try to stay with that good feeling.


It's so much easier to love people than to resent them. I think that happy state comes when we realize that they did the best they could, even if it wasn't always what we would have liked. Throwing away babies with bathwater only hurts ourselves.

Writing this helped me understand that I was loved more than I knew, and also that I was a difficult child for the particular parents I had, so I must have been a teaching for them, too.


I think I missed yours. I'm going to hunt it down.

The snowsuit in that picture was green, my mother's favorite color, but I wished it were blue which was mine, like the shutters.

molly said...

Heart, You can go to my "Challenge" post and at the bottom you can click on Calvin's...

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Thank you yet again! I read Calvin's post and it was every bit as beautiful as I expected.

Sienna said...

This is so beautiful Hearts, it's kinda like time travel, I can see you in all this.

So amazing, because some people "write" books on their life and you have captured the essence in I am from...

Really love this, just so beautiful. (And what a family!).

Can I swap mate? :)

I wanna be from this.


Anonymous said...

Wow. That was amazing. This was a slightly new format, of course, but your writing is always so amazingly personal, so wise and witty, so filled with interesting facts and twists, humor and wonderful characters. The greatest character, the one with the wisest voice, the biggest heart, the warmest touch always seems to be Ms Heart in San Francisco.

Amazing, Ms Heart. Lovely and lovely and simply, simply lovely.

Mariposa said...

Beautiful! And love most the end part!

Ian Lidster said...

I am utterly charmed by you and your life. You are my friend (just by your sensibilities) even though we've never met in real life. I like your father very much and your reminiscences of him.
What a wonderful story.
Oh, and on another topic, re your comment on my recent blog: "Socksuckers" I love that.

Anonymous said...

That's really beautiful. And ween't you a gorgeous child? (Not that this surprises me.

meno said...

That was very clear and moving. Glad you took up the challenge. You have no need to be intimidated.

Unknown said...

I get a sense that a healing of some sort took place as this was being written.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I wish you would do this exercise because I would love to know more about the forces that shaped you with your incredible visual sensibility and kindness, and how you could not have been raised anywhere but Australia.

Thank you so much, Mr. Witnessing. Your generosity is always so wonderfully extravagant.

My parents always said I was "a character," but I don't think they meant it quite the way you do.

There is a template for this meme, which will explain the change in style you noticed. I used it as a jumping-off point but didn't follow it precisely.


I do believe the hardest things in life are the ones that most help us in our development.


I hoped my comment would make you giggle as it did me.

You are a most treasured friend around these parts, too.


You're sweet, but aren't all children gorgeous, really, before life gets to them?


I ain't skeered. Wussy Tom is skeered but not ole Huckleberry.


As always, you are perceptive. In an earlier comment, when I said that writing this had made me oddly happy, I was referring to the feeling that a shift had taken place. I felt more acutely alive and at peace with my soul afterward.

There must be magic in this exercise.

Jay said...

You're right, this is really a lovely thing to behold. Thanks for sharing.

Jess said...

Lovely, lovely, lovely.

The CEO said...

Amazing, astonishing, and that's just the 'a's. I have never even dreamed of being able to write that well. That's inspirational, and more than just talent, it's more like virtuoso. Thank you.

Black Wombmyn Chat said...

Whoa. Powerful. Poignant. Brilliant.

I feel it in my heart. It is mighty. You are mighty. Thank you for your gift.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful poetry. I'd love to hear this aloud.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


The idea that all our ancestors live on in us is truly exciting, and magical.


Welcome to my corner of the blogosphere.

I read your version of this and loved it, as well as your gorgeous template with its stunning picture of your daughter.


You are too kind, not that I'm complaining or anything. You always brighten my day when you come by.


Wow. Thank you!! Your praise humbles me and also makes me happy.


You should do this one. I would love to read it, aloud or silently.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

You are from wonderous places and people, and you are quite a terrific result of all the things you are from.

Missed it here, pardon me while I go snoop around and see what's been going on...

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It's wonderful to have you back!

Sienna said...

I have given this a lot of thought Hearts.

I would love to do this but I'm not there yet.

Think of me as this kitchen sponge that is absorbing and soaking up life, (and still very wet behind the ears)....A very kind little sponge, sure...but that does not a person make..

I gotta long way to go yet, a really long way...I am still figuring out who I am, I don't think I have the skill or insight yet to even explain to myself let alone a person I look up to.

I'm sure I'll get there.

...and it is all fun, a little raw and sensitive but shakes out as fun.


Jocelyn said...

Everything you write is glorious.

This is perhaps the best of all those glories.

Heart-stopping, dear Heart.

Jameil said...

I.LOVE.THIS!!!!!!!!! amazing.

Anonymous said...

Woof, last paragraph "killed".
"Spot on summation of an incarnation." said she in the cheap seats.

Love your telling.


heartinsanfrancisco said...


Sorry, lady, but I do not see you as Sponge Bob, or Bobette.

You make a fascinating point that following our memories back is like time travel.

And the "assignment" was optional. I always enjoy whatever you choose to post, and will continue to do so.


Oh, I'm jumping up and down here. Praise from a writer I admire as much as I do you is its own kind of heart-stopping. Thank you.


Is it okay if I just send you a huge grateful smile?


If you're in the cheap seats, you need to charge more for those sessions.

I have spoken.

Rebecca said...

Beautiful It may take me a year to work on, but I'm stealing this and writing my own.

You're from awesome.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Oh, it IS you. Hi!!


Please do, and let me know when you post it because I'd love to read it.

Thank you for your visit here.

Rebecca said...

Hi. I found you though Maria's, though I see you and I share other readers as well. I truly enjoyed your rendition of this meme, and plan to incorporate it into my own blog. Maria would chuckle to know that I actually picked up paper and a pencil to start it, rather than attack my keyboard.

Thank you.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Thank you for your visit! I look forward to reading your version of this exercise when you get it transcribed from paper to computer.