Friday Musings: Phantom Limb

Friday Musings: Phantom Limb

My daughter Wendy and I were recently away for a day or so, and we had one of those deep conversations that mothers and daughters tend to have when they find themselves sharing a bed late at night when the rest of the world seems to be sleeping. There is something about the darkness and the quiet that makes it the perfect time for remembering secrets long forgotten. I feel this way about late night talks with any of my kids. They always make me think of the countless hours spent together when they were very young, and I was the one who could make them feel safe from all the things in the world that had the potential to truly scare them. This particular discussion didn’t really begin as anything spooky, but it quickly moved in that direction as soon as Wendy brought up the house that we lived in from the time she was born in 1989 until my mom died in 2011. She described it as an epic place to grow up, which made me smile because I knew exactly what she meant. The house was anything but epic in size or stature; in fact, by many development house mini-mansion standards, it would be considered quite small. Yet if you looked at it from overhead you would see that the yard had many different areas: a pool, a deck, a vegetable and a rose garden, and two shady spots with benches, giant hostas, and ivy. There were flowers everywhere, a butterfly garden, a front porch, a back porch, a garage, and a row of large fir trees that bordered one entire edge of the property suggesting more seclusion than was ever true in reality. The inside of the house was similar with lots of nooks and crannies, making it seem so much larger than it appeared from the street, and there was a definite swirling energy that seemed to move as if on a current of air, rushing into this corner or that one and holding in places that became palpable for all of us at different times.

Was the house haunted in some way? I never considered it to be, despite the fact that each of us has a scary story or two to tell about our time there. I’ve thought about it a lot over the years and more often than not I have been satisfied with the universally accepted explanation that houses hold a collective energy that is a culmination of all the events that occurred in them. There are certain houses that we walk into where we immediately feel uncomfortable, and it’s fair to speculate that it could be as a result of something negative that happened at some point in the past. The same is true of the opposite situation where a house feels welcoming and uplifting, and we assume that it’s because it holds more wonderful memories than tragic ones, but I wonder if it’s as clear cut as all that. The houses we live in may have interesting pasts, but unless their energy feels truly frightening or is blocked entirely, it’s unlikely that anything of a horrible nature ever occurred in them. If either of these things were true, it would also beg the question as to why we would have bought the house in the first place. I’m equally certain that it’s fair to say that most of us do our best to fill our homes with happy memories. Yet despite all of this, many people I’ve talked to have been able to relate to the experience of having a few spots in their homes that feel a bit off. There’s that oddly dark corner in the basement, or the weird closet door, or the hallway that gives us the creeps, especially at night. We live with them everyday and eventually grow to accept them. What do these places feel like to you? They’ve always made me want to hide one eye, but peek out with the other just enough to take a closer look. I’ve often thought the feeling must be like phantom limb pain, where something pokes at a part of us that we know isn’t there anymore, but we still feel the need to look just to be sure.

Since my conversation with Wendy, I’ve turned the idea of houses and the potential energy they hold over in my head quite a few times without coming to any solid conclusion. It did lead me to wonder, however, if houses hold a certain kind of symbolism for us that might offer a way to look at some of the places within ourselves where our own energy feels a bit off. In traditional dream analysis, houses are thought to be metaphorical manifestations of our sense of self, with each room representing a different aspect of our personality. If we look at ourselves from overhead in much the same way as I did earlier when talking about my house, a certain map or layout would begin to form. There would be areas that appear bright and clear and others that would look darker and more obscure. Similarly, if we allowed ourselves to descend into our memories or examine the emotional ways in which we handle certain aspects of life, we would most definitely confront places that held that same swirling energy that we find in our houses. I’d venture to guess that we’d also discover a fair number of spots where we’d feel that strange phantom limb pain. I’m not talking about major trauma, but more about the fact that we have all been in situations that we knew weren’t quite right for us, or made decisions that may have led us down the wrong path, or experienced emotions that may have escalated out of control. We may have tucked these moments away because they are over and behind us, but we may also find that they continue to poke at us, demanding that we look, but swirling away again when we do. Sometimes it helps to talk about these spots within us. We think that by shining a light on them, we will chase them away, but once the talking is over they tend to tiptoe back into their dark corners and sit back down again. They might just be here to stay. Ultimately, it may help to accept the fact that we are a collection of everything that has happened to us thus far, in much the same way that our houses are, and while we are filled with the light that streams in through our windows, we also contain some shadowy places that defy complete illumination. Phantom limb pain is not just a manifestation of our minds, but rather the result of signals that still travel down remaining neural pathways. The instances in life that have made us feel hurt, or disappointment, or shame remain a very real part of us and deserve the same acceptance we give to the long, dark hallway or the weird closet that we live with every day. If we incorporate them into the whole of our being and allow ourselves to feel them as part of the endless current of energy inside us, we may find that they spend less time lying in wait dark corners and more time providing their own shadowy form of revelation.

For today’s cocktail, I wanted to create something that was ethereal in nature and defied any sort of specific category or definition. In other words, I was hoping to capture a certain swirling and elusive energy. The ingredients had to be unusual, so I began with a simple syrup infused with the leaves of a citrus scented geranium plant and paired it with Meyer lemon and Key lime juices. For the base spirit, I used a Pisco from Peru called La Diablada, a clear, unaged brandy distilled from grapes that has wonderful floral and citrus flavors. As a secondary spirit, I added Dolin Blanc, a lightly sweetened vermouth that matched fabulously with the Pisco. The ingredient that I really wanted to feature, however, was a Tropical Orchid syrup from the Floral Elixir Company given to me by one of Recklesstown‘s most loyal and beloved customers, Patti Provost-McCafferty, who graces us with her presence on the front porch most Friday nights. I am not the only one who views Patti and her husband Bud as friends, or who recognizes that the distillery is somehow warmer, happier, and more complete when they are with us. This syrup had the exact ethereal quality that I was looking for, and it unified all the other components of the drink. Symbolically speaking, lemon scented geraniums represent unexpected encounters and orchids are connected to the idea of unity. The cocktail in the photo is sitting on a coaster made from Labradorite, a kind of gemstone that is believed to help temper negative energy found within ourselves. When I tasted the drink and tried to identify exactly what it was, I might have called it a Pisco sour, or a kind of gimlet, or a daisy, but each of those ideas whooshed away from me in succession, and the drink became a force all of its own, just the end result I was hoping for. Cheers everyone. Happy Friday! I wish you all a wonderful holiday weekend.

Phantom Limb

1.75 oz La Diablada Pisco
1.25 oz Tropical Orchid syrup from the Floral Elixir Co.
1 oz Dolin Blanc vermouth
1 oz citrus scented geranium syrup*
.5 oz Key lime juice
.5 oz Meyer lemon juice

Long shake over ice.
Double strain into a coupe glass.
Garnish with geranium petals.


*Roughly chop a handful of citrus scented geranium leaves. Make a 1:1 simple syrup and add the leaves to infuse. Check flavor after a few hours.

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