Sarah’s Tree

Coming from my house
To Sarah’s house
With a weary heart

On my walk in Griffith Park this morning, puzzling over a dilemma, I thought to ask myself what my mother would say. An answer readily came, and it made sense, as my mother’s suggestions often did.

I should consult my mother more often.
My friends often sought her advice. She was wise.

“A gifted teacher, she loved all children,” is inscribed on Anne Steinman’s plaque in the Beth Olam cemetery in the heart of Hollywood. She loved her work as an early childhood learning specialist, Head Start teacher and advocate for children. She maintained a youthful exuberance her entire life. Her handwritten letters included many exclamation points. She was a wildly creative and unpredictable cook. (who else would make red snapper, green chiles, with slivovitz and dill?) She loved being a mother.

She met my father when she was fifteen. They married when she was just shy of twenty and they were together fifty-one years. They raised four kids, treasured their grandchildren. They were together through wartime and peacetime, thick and thin. They argued, they loved, they lived.

My parents both died in 1990. A heart attack felled my father in January. My mother’s pancreatic cancer returned in April, after a three-year remission. By October, after months of terrible suffering, she was gone. Too young, Too soon.

It’s difficult to comprehend that it’s been nearly twenty-two years since they left us.

My mother had always wanted to write a childrens’ book. She satisfied that goal just days before she died. Morphine eased the cancer’s pain; perhaps it also eased the story from her imagination. “I’m ready,” she told me one afternoon, without warning. “It’s called ‘Sarah’s Tree.’” I scrambled to write it down as she fluidly narrated her tale. I promised to illustrate it and I finally did, though to my sorrow, she never got to see the finished little book.

In “Sarah’s Tree,” my mother uses the simple metaphor of her frequent drives across L.A. to visit Sarah Rebecca, her then-youngest grandchild, firstborn of my brother Ken and his wife Rhonda. Tiny blond Sarah Rebecca (born a premie) with her huge soulful blue eyes was my mother’s great comfort during that annus horribilis.

Recently Sarah Rebecca, now 23, drove to her old house in the Valley to see if she could find the tree. She wasn’t sure which one it was. Perhaps we’ll go look for it together someday soon. What matters is that my mother saw it, that it’s possible to find such inspiration in a scraggly tree on a traffic median in the middle of the city.

excerpt:

the limbs of Sarah’s tree
are arms and legs,
buoys, guiding stars,
lighthousees

They direct me
to where light and love exist.
That’s what Sarah’s tree’s limbs do.

There is so much to say about my mother.

Here is Anne in a dreamy moment, sitting at the yin/yang table in my kitchen in Portland, Oregon in the seventies…

11 Responses to “Sarah’s Tree”

  1. Lou Loomis Says:

    I remember your mom, my wonderful and inspiring Aunt Anne. Paula and I still talk about her and how she inspired all of us. Her memory is for a blessing.

  2. Petrine Day Mitchum Says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your mom, Louise…. and cool illustrations too!

  3. Louise — Lovely tribute to your Mom. And I recognize not only that kitchen, but the kitchen table!

  4. your dreamy mom. i remember the beautiful book and her last story. thank you. on april 17, my mom will have been gone 20 years. time and love.

  5. Rhonda Steinman Says:

    This was great. With tears in my eyes, I fondly remember Anne and her love for our Sarah Rebecca.

  6. Oh my god I had forgotten I lived with a red and yellow yin-and-yang table. But I hadn’t forgotten Anne and all her exclamation points.

  7. Loosing one’s parents and siblings changes who you are. I know. I think it can makes us better, wiser and more compassionate human beings toward ourselves and others. You are very fortunate and blessed to have had such a wonderful mother and to have been given many gifts to share. Thank you for sharing. I lost my dear mother 17 years ago, my brother and father two months apart from one another nine years ago. They always live close to my heart.

  8. Doyle Lormah Says:

    zu träumen ist zu vergeben

  9. There are so many things to say about your mom and the beautiful words you have added. “Sarah’s Tree” lives in my prize possessions, as her most poignant, even revelatory self. Then: at your wedding, under live oaks in Topanga, and she kept proclaiming, over and over, “Babies under every tree! Babies under every tree!”

  10. Louise dear what a lovely article and the excerpt from Sarah’s tree made me cry. Your mom was such a wonderful enthusiastic whirlwind, such a great surrogate mom for a spell. And you look like her in that photo! And I love your watercolors!XXXScotty
    ps. enjoyed your next blog too…waited to read until I could print them out and read at leisure

  11. I love the picture of your mom

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