See My Mother's Chest after this one.
July 2, 2023
Hello Family and Friends
LIFE OVER DEATH
In the November 16th Science Section of The New York Times there's an article titled Healing Messengers . It's about our combat veterans who have severe life changing injuries, pain, stress, depression and suicidal thoughts as the aftereffects of their military experiences.
At the start of this article is a large striking photograph of a relatively young man (33) on a beach in California. The veteran in the picture is missing an entire arm and the lower portion of his other arm. At first glance, the viewer might think his legs are buried into the sand, deeply obscured from view. But he has no legs beneath the visible surface. Along with his other bodily damages they were lost via a horrible explosion in combat.
We can only remind ourselves of the thousands of surviving lives of these military veterans and their immediate families. Through their individual and group efforts, they have expressed strong interests in having access to legal psychedelic drugs to relieve their chronic suffering. These veterans are hardly the exploratory adventuresome drug users of the 1960s and 1970s who sought exciting “trips” with LSD, psilocybin, “Ecstasy” (MDMA) and other hallucinogenic agents. As they continue to live out their lives they seek relief from their pain and agony. Despite everything, they choose life over death.
Recently, a few cities and states (such as Oregon and Washington, D.C.) are passing legislation to provide legal psychedelic drugs to them, but it is spotty. And some universities are researching the positive effects of hallucinogenic agents, see https://med.stanford.edu/spsg/about.html . The total number of veterans with such life-changing injuries is difficult to determine. With our continual engagements in global battles, the figure could be quite high. Again and again young men and women are sacrificed in exchange for questionable political/military decisions as our country continues to sustain world dominance.
Since September 11, 2001 about 31,000 service veterans have committed suicide. This is about 4 times those who did die in actual battles since in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Did multiple tours in combat and their battle experiences contribute to their bodies, minds and spirits being so irreparably damaged? The existing mystery for such individuals, their families and governmental agencies along with advocacy groups concerned about them is related to why have so many chosen to end their lives?
The underlying issue is why can't they have legally provided psychedelic drugs? Perhaps these psychedelic drugs would positively influence them before some despairingly commit suicide. Wouldn't that be a fine gift to them? Those who served in the military went off as whole humans; some returned as portions of who they once were.
Here's a concluding quote by Jose Martinez, the veteran Army Ranger from California cited above and whose picture you've seen: “Psychedelics helped me realize that my problems are small compared to the world's bigger problems like starvation and cancer. And now I understand what I'm actually here for in this world, which is to make people smile and to remind them that life can be beautiful even when it's not so easy.”
Maybe you want to take another look at Jose Martinez's picture. It's a pure manifestation of his will and commitment to be alive.
What can we as individuals do about this matter? Be informed citizens. Seek out clarifying information from the Department of Veteran's Affairs and various Veterans' support groups (some are cited in The NY Times article). Pressure our state and national legislators who ultimately decide funding and programs for such issues, the majority of whom have not served in the military. Recently, our federal legislators approved $780 billion for the military. How about money for those military servicemen and servicewoman who served and remain forever maimed? Do you believe those who fought for us can be given medical services and research programs to offset and ease the tragic destructive outcomes of their military injuries?
(Please note : l served in the USMC on active duty for 40 months, but not in combat. Some Marines I met, had. If ever they spoke about those experiences, the repetitive comment was it changed them forever.)
Suggested Recent Readings:
Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
Sinclair Lewis, It Can't Happen Here .
MY MOTHER'S CHEST
By Joseph N. Muzio
At first glance, the title of this essay could be quite misleading. The reader could easily think the essay concerns some of my mother's long ago body parts, specifically her breasts or bosom. Rather than promote any further unintentional confusion or even any lame attempt to offer a psychological interpretation of this title itself, let me come clean right at the beginning.
My mother's been dead almost 37 years. And even when she was alive, I want to reassure readers I didn't give thought to her anatomy, at least at a conscious, discernable level. So, if the essay's title doesn't have anything to do with her body, the title “My Mother's Chest” is somewhat of a misnomer. It must mean it has to be related to something else.
This essay is about an ancient piece of furniture located in our home. It originally belonged to my mother and father. It was jointly owned; my parents probably bought it right after they were married in New York City in September,1928. Essentially, its origins remain a mystery. We do not know how old it is, I suspect it's much older than when they first purchased it.
On the back of it is a faded, barely readable label from: “Leslie Mark 164-168 Canal Street, New York,” with a phone number “Canal 9042,” (note the brief phone number) and the simple sentence “One of American's Finest Furniture Stores.” There's no other identification or other information. But from early on, it has been explicitly referred to as “my mother's chest.”
With Lois' computer help, she did identify an existing Canadian furniture company with the same Leslie Mark name; and pictures of this company's furniture pieces had a strong craft resemblance to the style of this chest. Lois thinks it might even be a crafted museum piece. It's been with my parents through their many moves in New York, Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. Since my father died early in 1958, the chest has been exclusively with my mother. She sold her home in East Northport, Long Island and then moved to an apartment in Flushing, Queens.
Lois and I inherited it after my mother died in 1985. My sister Maria thought we should have it. Besides, Maria was a gifted creative home decorator and I suspect it didn't fit into her style. Our sons and nephew transported it to our house in Leonia, New Jersey from Holliswood, Queens where my mother last lived. For almost 46 years it occupied a prime location in our dining room there until we moved to Rockport, Massachusetts in May, 2008.
Now, the chest sits prominently in our combined living/dining room here in Rockport, visible to all who visit us. We came here to Rockport exactly 15 years ago, on May 1, 2008. When newcomers are in our home and see it, they often comment about it, some stand in front of it and stare at it, sometimes even touch it. In response to any questions about it, either Lois or I offer a brief explanation about it.
Please stare at the above photograph, it's quite beautiful. As you can see, the chest is massive, unique, composed of several different woods, mostly walnut, with contrasting inlays. It's the result of intricate carving and patient shaping craftsmanship, efforts of many labor hours by those skilled and long ago artisans from who knows where. Various woods have been joined with geometric precision; the scrolls in the wood are artistically balanced. The bold legs that support the bulkier chest are artfully shaped; they reach the floor on heavily carved supporting feet.
The metal key that opens the right-side French door is the original one, it's even slightly worn down, but does work. In order to open the left-side French door you have to reach along its border; there are metal latches at the top and the bottom of it; they too are slightly worn, the wood around these latches is smoothed-down by all the finger nails used to open the two latches over the years. By releasing these latches, both doors can swing fully out open.
When it's opened are shelves on each side of the “chest.” Special glassware and dishes are kept in it. We also store some of Lois' mother's dishes and some of my mother's remaining china. When we have gatherings of our family and friends, the china plates and glasses acquired over the years are used for these special occasions. In some ways the chest holds an unspoken portion of our family's social history throughout all these years. By the way, although the doors are known as “French doors,” I know absolutely nothing as to this architecturally terminology for them. I suppose I could look it up. There are two smaller front drawers on the chest, each with elaborate handles. In them we have kept attractive placemats and large unused candles; these items are used when we have guests for special occasions.
Because my mother held full time jobs, she was a strong advocate for using her children's labor to handle ongoing family chores. She'd leave lists of specific responsibilities that had to be done while she worked; and Maria and I would carry them out. One of my regular assignments along with others was to carefully dust “my mother's chest” with a clean soft cloth.
This chore involved making sure the top of it was dusted, along with the various curves and crevices on the chest and legs and sides. And since we often lived in an apartment, especially when we were in Brooklyn and Sunnyside, Queens, and there was much factory soot that came into the apartment during World War II, this chore had to be done often. Sometimes when she came home from work, she'd check to see if the various chores were properly done; when they weren't, we'd have to do them over again. Because of my mother's assigned procedures, it was easier and better to do the chores well the first time. It was a sound learning lesson for us.
When my sister Maria and I were young, she was about 7 or 8 and I was 2 1/2 years younger, we used to play underneath it. We would tie a clothesline to the front legs of the chest and make believe we were in a stagecoach going across the country. We created these make believe voyages again and again with variations. We'd fantasize how we'd journey to California and encounter all sorts of unpredictable events on the way. Our adventures were exciting, sometimes sad or presenting problems encountered on the journey. Then, as we got older and considerably larger, eventually we couldn't fit underneath it comfortably and we moved on to other toys and games, along with less confining social activities and athletic games. In a way, we gave up our childish adventures for our real developing world. The children's games were over and would not be repeated again.
Lately in conversations with two our sons, Edward and Matthew, they revealed they too used to play underneath the chest. They would tuck sheets or towels in the sides of the chest and made believe they too were on a long journey. Until recently, I never knew about these familial similarities in our fantasy games. Matthew wrote a separate piece about the chest and it appears at the end of this one.
A quick example of the continual but even recent referral to this chest as “my mother's chest” is related to a group meeting Lois and I had at our home. If this tale implies a certain sacredness and exclusivity to the chest, you're right. Our youngest son Matthew had gotten married in Paris in September to Lamya, a talented French actress he met many years ago here in the United States. We were having a celebration of the event in our home in November 2019. The house was filled with family and friends. While I was chatting with someone, from the corner of my eye I noticed one of guests physically leaning against “my mother's chest.” I commented to the person I was talking with, excused myself, and pointed out to him someone was leaning against “my mother's chest,” almost as if she'd violated my mother directly. She starred at me, and probably had no idea what I was talking about. Then, I quickly went over to that woman, apologized for interrupting her conversation and announced she'd been leaning on “my mother's chest.” She seemed surprised by my remark; she apologized to me, stopped leaning and then went right on with her original conversation.
Although this happened several years ago, just the other night Lois reminded me she believes I might have offended this woman. If she ever gets to read this, I apologize right now. But, it's still my “mother's chest,” forever, and still right with us.
At this point, Of course, the readers might wonder why “my mother's chest” gets any attention. And yet it's much more than this; its presence and history are intimately entwined with our family's journey and our memories over these many years. It's been in our lives. It has been at all of the functions ever going on in our family. (Of course, how could an inanimate object such as this “chest” possibly be involved in recalling any memories and remembrances of our family's lifetime experiences?) The “chest” is bulky; it's old; it takes up a lot of space; and who will want it after the current owners, Lois and Joseph are no longer around?
A quick review of our home indicates that beside this chest, some photograph albums from long ago, perhaps a few dozen of the many books we own, some correspondences, and a couple of other personal possessions, both my mother's and father's worldly goods are long gone. And the contents of the “chest” are as mentioned earlier simply glassware and china from our families collected over the years. Although the “chest” is cited in our wills, there is no guarantee our immediate family members have any interest in it.
My parents' lifetime journey is just about over, their struggles and successes, how they met life's experiences. Most of this has been handled in the memoir, “Buddy Remembers …Then and Now” written by me shortly after we moved to Rockport. Now it's time to move on, keeping an eye on “My mother's chest” and wondering what will happen to it down the road.
In 2028, the chest will be 100 years young; or perhaps older because we do not know when it was officially made. By then, Lois and I will undoubtedly be gone. Our hope is “My mother's chest” remains with our remaining family members and that it continues to be passed on within the family. So, you've now been exposed to the legacy and tale of “my mother's infamous chest.
MATTHEW MUZIO'S RECOLLECTIONS OF “MY MOTHER'S CHEST” APRIL, 2023
My Grandmother, Nonna Philomena Muzio lived in Flushing Queens. We would go over to her house possibly 4 or 5 times a year for a very Italian dinner or late lunch. She lived in what seemed to be a retirement community . It always felt like I was going to some type of country with a lot of buildings because it did not have many cars on the streets. What I also remember is that my Grandmother Nonna had this beautiful chest in her apartment that my brother Edward and I uses to hide under, and act like no one could see us. The chest always had a feeling of strength because it was handcrafted and might have been from another country; it was probably the most beautiful thing in the apartment. My father told Philomena (his Mother, my Grandmother) that he wanted the chest and do not give it to his sister Maria. Also, my father and his sister Maria used to jab at each other sarcastically as to who would eventually inherit the prized antique chest in Flushing. At 5 or 6 years old, I knew the chest had a significant value to our family, not from a financial value but one of a historic value to our family. Recently, I found out my father Joseph and his sister Maria used to hide under the chest as children the same way Edward and I did.