Order of the Good Write

That Magic Feeling When the Words Flow. A Blog by Debi Rotmil

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Wednesday Writing Prompt: Dreams Deferred

green dangling beaded dress

‘Ana La Habana’ Fashion

My mother came from Havana Cuba after a member of Castro’s staff told her to take her son and leave the country. This was 1959.

Ana Srebrenik was a single mother and shop owner. She ran a little lingerie store in the lobby of, what was then, the Havana Hilton. Castro and his team had their offices in the building, and every day (as I remember her telling me), she’d see he and his minions walk through the hotel after their day in the mountains.

She got to know his side men casually. One of them gave her the heads up about the revolution and how her capitalist ways were no longer going to cut it in post Revolution Cuba.

My mother immigrated to the US and settled in New York and built another business. This time it was a dress shop in White Plains. This time she designed some of the clothes and hired a tailor to run them up for her store. I believe she had a partner in this venture because I used to hear about a couple with whom she had to settle  when the store closed. Their names are forgotten.

Ana placed her career on a shelf, met my father, got married and had me. Maybe it wasn’t all in that order. I’m never sure. Details got fuzzy. When she was alive, she wouldn’t go into detail. I only knew she always thought she’d get back into her own store again. But she never did.

When she passed away unexpectedly in November of 2009, I had to do what we all have to do once in our lives: clean out the family home, send things to donation, organize estate sales, sell off property.

Among her things, I came upon a portfolio of her fashion sketchings.  They were likely done after she gave up her store. She always loved clothes and good fashion although she never allowed herself to buy many things. Mom would re-purpose old clothes, re-design a skirt, or use a scarf as a belt. Like Little Edie Beale of ‘Grey Gardens’, she’d find a perfect outfit for the day.

fitted orange dress

Smart business attire for the day. ‘Ana La Habana’

While going through these drawings, I see a creative side to my mother I had never explored. To me, she was the mom in the kitchen, the mom in the car driving me to school or to the store, the mom in the dark room. Her dreams stunted by responsibility placed upon her as a woman of a certain generation.


Cocktails? ‘Ana La Habana’

Each dressed devised by her hand evoked glamour and chance situations. There was a bit of glory and opportunity with each sash and button. The lines and shading promoted a dream world she wish she could step into, or to allow a potential customer to live empowered through a frock devised by her own vision.

Yet, those ideas were left frozen on a page, hidden in a binder sitting at the bottom of a trunk. So many years ago, measured by the passage of time where she wouldn’t allow her true creative self to flourish. That it was her duty as a wife and mother at the time. That her way of handling a career and motherhood as a young single mother in Cuba caused a riff between her and her son.

Not this time, she likely thought when she had me. So she shut the dream down.

She encouraged me to be successful.

She was proud of my athleticism and independence.

I think back at the times she never brought up marriage and grandchildren. Never guilted me about it.

She once even told me I should run my own business.  But the everyday corporate life seemed like a societal obligation, having seen my father find security at IBM for entire career.

How wrong I was. The world isn’t the same.

I think of the song *”Days and Days” from the musical “Fun Home”.  It’s sung by Helen Bechdel to her daughter Alison after dealing with her husband Bruce’s closeted life for so many years. She had just asked him for a divorce.

Although the family circumstances are not the same as mine, the feeling of wasted days due to what was expected of her comes to light.

She sings of the ordinary, mundane things, “…lunches and car rides and shirts and socks. And grades and piano…and no one clocks the day you disappear,” and “bargains I made because as a wife I was meant to, and now my life is shattered and made bare.”

Days and days and days. Just like my  mother, married to a very nice, sweet, adorable man whom I worshiped, but held her to what was expected of her. He was likely resentful of her depression, not understanding what she needed.

There is no one to blame really. But lessons are learned. Parents strive for their children to have a better life than the one they leave behind.

I can hear my own mother say it in my ear.

“Don’t you come back here. I didn’t raise you to give away your days…like me.”

Writing Prompt:

What are your dreams? What have you sacrificed in order to live a certain way? What creative activity have you allowed to sit on the shelf?  And if you brought it out of the darkness to make it a part of your livelihood or your hobby, how will you continue to use that talent and never give up?


‘Days and Days’, from the musical ‘Fun Home’. Music by Jeanine Tesori. Words by Lisa Kron.





Cosmic Anesthesia

Screenshot 2015-01-25 11.11.03When I was a very young child, I used to walk out of the house and wander around the neighborhood alone.  I was so young I wasn’t even in school yet.  It was somewhere in the 1960’s, the decade where kids ate paint, breathed asbestos and played with plastic dry cleaning bags before the printed warnings became mandatory. I hardly understood the 60’s. They were my Landing-on-Earth years. Like an astronaut who just touched down, I was getting my wobbly legs used to gravity and time. I don’t know where I came from. All I know is I left a warm, comfortable limbo and slowly woke up to the bright, loud reality of this planet.

My mom said I hardly cried as a child. I didn’t talk much. It’s probably because I was taking it all in. Each moment held dreamy images and curious exploration. In hindsight, being a toddler turning into a young tike was like waking up from deep sleep – or coming out of cosmic anesthesia. Flashes of ceiling and light beamed over my crib.  I remember nothing but images, tastes and sounds. Songs on the radio, “Close to You, “Happy Together”, “Mrs. Robinson” filled the audible space. The first nauseating taste of morning eggs in my mouth. Blossoms from the Japanese Cherry tree in our backyard danced outside my nursery window. There’s an out of body memory in my head of me clinging to my mother’s hip. Since I was born in the wake of JFK’s assassination, vague faces of the Kennedy clan floated by, black and white and grainy, likely from the TV news in the background.

As I was saying, I used to open the door to our house when my mother wasn’t looking. I’d stroll down the street, and enter backyards. This young wanderlust is likely inside all children; yet, mothers of today would be sent to jail for neglect if a little girl under the age of five is found wandering the neighborhood, splashing in the Bilquin’s pond, or playing with ornamental ceramic garden ducks. My vague memories are mostly scenes where I walk through gardens and feel a deep, innate, ancient sense of peace and zen. Perhaps young children are still fresh with the spirit of heaven. We tend to loose that feeling through the years, reaching for meditation, yoga and self help books on inner tranquility.  My mother did the best she could despite my periodic escapes. Neighbors and their older kids would find me, take me by the hand, and bring me back to my house. My mother would be thankful, and try to keep her eye on me, but I’d always get out.

One memory is of a spring day. I opened the door, walked up our path to the street and wandered beyond an empty lot at the end of Wilmoth Avenue through a small thicket of woods to the Wilson’s backyard. The family had an acre or two of land that seemed like an open field.

On this day, my attention was struck by a single red deflating balloon that appeared out of nowhere.  It had a long white string tied to the loosening knot with a post card dangling at the end. The wind pushed it forward over the grass, bouncing away from me, dragging the string as I chased this ethereal little rubber fellow around like we were in a ballet. It was a living dream, as if I was following a note from God with a message someone could read to me, like a story my dad told me before bedtime. Maybe it would reveal that everything was going to be okay in this life. Or perhaps it was a game?

I finally grabbed the string and held this precious sagging sphere, my reward for winning the chase.  I took the postcard and looked at its’ hand written content, a scribble with loopy flourishes laced on one side. The feeling of success and elation turned to confusion.  I was a least three or four years old. I didn’t know how to read.  I brought the balloon and the note back home with me, and hid it somewhere in our house. I was suddenly nervous to have anyone read the postcard out loud. I felt the message and the balloon didn’t really belong to me, and I’d be in trouble for having chased it down in a place I shouldn’t have been in the first place. Who knows? I was so very young.

I never found the note inside my old house again. It was likely lost in accumulated clutter, gained after years of growing up.

This story struck me as an interesting tale to write for children. It swirled in my mind – the balloon, the mysterious message. It all felt like the game ‘Myst’, where I was alone in a silent surreal world known as early childhood, dancing with a balloon that held a message. Then, I realized, in today’s world of “Political Correctness”, there would be cries of “How could your mother let you wander off alone?”  or  “Oh My God, you could have been abducted!” or “Poor parenting.”  Believe me, my half older brother has born it into me how embarrassing it was to have a mother who had moments of irresponsibility. But I don’t care. It was a different time. I was safe and watched by kind neighbors who only shook their heads knowing my mom held a touch of the flake. I cherish those moments of heaven, a child trying to find a little of the mystical world she left behind.

Last year, I was on Facebook and came across a school alumni forum for my old high school. Someone from my hometown who graduated about 15 years before I did posted the following. (I changed the name, and I’m paraphrasing, but the message was indeed this…)

Jenna MacDougal: Hi Guys!  Class of 68 here!  Remember when we did that project where we let go of all those balloons with postcards praising peace and love? How cool was that!?

After all these years, I finally have it confirmed. It was a note from God after all, sent through the hand of a teenager who wanted to spread the word.