On Mother’s Day, My Mother’s Hand…

My mother’s name was Hyacinth. And so on this day, a remembrance of this complicated, beloved woman…

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My Mother’s Hand                                                  

My mother’s hand was full of diamonds –

rings strewn carelessly on her bureau

in a china dish my father found in an antique shop

in East Baltimore.

She never wore a wedding ring,

at least not that I remember.


She spoke of a ring my father gave her,

before they married,

inexpensive, a black onyx with a diamond chip.

Her mother made her return it,

but they eloped instead.

Such children, an onyx ring.

I wore it for a while,

then lost it.

I wear a similar ring now, expensive, designer,

I see her, him,

my high school self.


My mother’s hand, full of diamonds,

never held a cooking spoon or a baby bottle,

but a pen, a beautiful script,

and shorthand, the Gregg method.

Her journal,

or perhaps only some writings now and then,

in shorthand,

her way of keeping her secrets.

She taught me to write my name that way.

I looked for it in her writings.

It wasn’t there.


My mother’s hand –

piano keys.

Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Chicago,

I only play in the key of C she would say.

but she sent me to Peabody.

I can play in any key, yet don’t have her touch, her spirit.

The last time she played,

her fingers, her muscle memory, not failing her,

diamonds still on her fingers.


Hands less beautiful in time,


jewels removed in the nursing home,

to keep them safe, they said.

She didn’t miss them,

she, with her manicure each week

to the very end.


Don’t grieve when I go, she said.

I’ve had a wonderful life.

****    ****    ****

This poem is part of my chapbook, PortraitS. If you care to, you can read more by going to my website:  cynthiastrauff.com



On Forgotten Bookmarks

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my heart is with Charlottesville and those who stood for justice… and this post, perhaps a moment to think of a kinder world…

On Forgotten Bookmarks…

I love to write in books; I use highlighters with abandon; I dog-ear pages that I want to come back to. I’m speaking of those I own, of course, though I get a special kind of glee when I come upon a note scribbled in a library book. A glimpse into the life, world view, of a stranger who just happened to read the same book. What a delight. It makes the reading all the juicier.

That’s one of the reasons that I haunt used book stores, though, as a writer, I do have a twinge about keeping that author from his or her well-earned, well-deserved royalty. Still, I admit that the joy of finding a note, a card, a flyer, a grocery list, and, occasionally, a pressed flower, far outweighs my guilt toward the writer.

These days I am re-reading some of my favorite works, and I must say that I smile when I find what I consider to be an especially cogent comment, made by a former me, of course. Hmmm…how smart I was then. Other times I wonder what I could have been thinking. And sometimes, when I see nearly the entire page covered with yellow highlighter, I laugh to picture myself at what must surely have been a frenzy of head-nodding agreement.

My mother used old greeting cards to mark her places, so when I pull out a volume that had been hers, I sometimes find a Mother’s Day or birthday card, sent by me, or my daughter, with a child’s scrabbled handwriting that you never forget. In those times, I get to remember her, and me, and perhaps another little one who is now remembering her own now not-so-little ones.

So, no purist, I am mounting a campaign to ask all readers to write, scribble, leave book marks and memories for those who come behind, even though they might appear via a book sale. Let’s live life lightly, but also leave those anonymous traces of who we are.


On Cooking

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On Cooking —

There was quite a Facebook firestorm a few weeks ago when an adult daughter lamented that her mother no longer cooked. She interpreted this change as a sign of depression, and asked for advice on how to get mom out of restaurants and back into the kitchen.

She received a less than united response. Some readers agreed with her assessment; they pointed out how difficult, some said sad, it was to cook for one person, and recommended cookbooks, recipes, and new cookware  Others took her to task for not being more present, not visiting, not giving her mother someone to cook for.

However, a large contingent took another view. They maintained that, after who-knows-how-many years of cooking, she should give her mother a break, or, even better, a gift certificate to her favorite restaurant.

No easy answers here, and it caused me to consider my thoughts about cooking.

My mother didn’t cook. (At the time that didn’t seem odd to me, though I envied those friends whose mothers inhabited their kitchens.) But on a few Sundays each year, she would don an apron over her black silk lounging pajamas and cook a special breakfast for us. My father and I raved about it, and I was way too old before I realized that creamed chipped beef on toast was not the height of the culinary universe.

When I married, I saw cooking as a primary domestic function, and made sure that meals were, if not delicious, at least on a well-laid table most nights.  Filling the house with friends and the table with food for holidays became a focus of my year.

But then. And there’s always a “but then.”

It became harder and harder to think of what to cook. Red meat had become anathema, chicken tasteless, fish mercury-laden, and soy, well, there was only so much one could do with tofu. Too much salt, too much GMO, just too much.

I used to cook for company. Now I don’t even do that. We meet friends for dinner, or they come here for drinks and cheese and crackers. Sparkling china goes untouched; silver tarnishes in its chest. Crystal gathers dust.

We are down to the two of us now, and my husband is uncomplaining about meals. For a few years I had convinced him that a baked sweet potato was a main course. I still cook, but most of the time I don’t like it. It’s the daily-ness of the job. There is always tomorrow’s dinner to figure out.

Life has changed; we have changed. More’s the pity, because cooking, when one is in the mood, feeds the soul even more than the body.

And thinking of the daughter at the top of this post, I do think that I would be happier if I still liked to cook. Every once in a while I rally, find a new cookbook, try a few new recipes. But all in all, the thrill is gone.

So, to her, I give this advice: Ask your mom why she’s eating out. If she gives you a pitiful reply, see how you can help. If she just says, “I’m done with that,” understand. You may be there yourself before long.

And now I must go; I have a pot roast on the stove….

Always a Plaid Dress for Back-to-School


These last August weeks, cool early mornings on the sunporch. My mind wanders back to Rock Springs, the house where I grew up. August meant that school would soon start, something I always looked forward to. In August, I started counting the days; in August the issues of Good Housekeeping and Ladies’ Home Journal arrived, always with a cover of a school girl in a dark plaid dress (or so it seemed to me). It was then that I told my mother that I was ready to shop. She was always ready.

We headed to Hochschild Kohn’s, Edmonson Village, where she knew the buyer for children’s clothes. I would pick out one dress, plaid. She chose more, many more, more than I wanted. (I was an “under-purchaser” even then.) She thought that it would make me happy. It didn’t, and I acted like a brat.

It was only when I was too old for back-to-school plaid dresses, too old for back-to-school, that I realized that, when she was a child, she had always longed for a closet packed with school clothes, a different outfit for every day.  She wanted to give that to me, who didn’t want it, who didn’t appreciate it, and who would never have quite as large a wardrobe as I needed.

I’m sorry that I wasn’t grateful,more appreciative. I’m sorry that it took me so long to understand that what she was giving me meant more than clothes, more than a full closet, and I wonder what I have given to my child that, in the end, is really about me.