Oh Say, Can You See?

Oh Say, Can You See?

No, this is not a post about our flag, although that is a perfectly deserving subject.  Believe it or not, it’s about recycling.  As the photo indicates, I’ll be able to see into my library closet a lot better once all those boxes are hauled to the recycling center.  The mudroom will look a lot tidier without the three huge trash bags of plastic, newspaper, magazine and cardboard items that fill them, as well.  And the trash guy who drives by my place every Friday morning doesn’t have to stop but about half the time, because I recycle so many things that I only have one bag out there to go to the dump about twice a month.  Food scraps get fed to my chickens, or put in a compost heap along with coffee ground, egg shells, dry leaves, grass clippings and no small amount of horse manure.  I guess the environmentalists would love me, along with the earthworms out by my garden spot.  One of these days I’m going to get industrious enough to actually plant a garden, use the compost, and let those little invertebrates return the favor.  In the meantime, there are several cubic feet of extremely fertile soil nearby, just waiting.

Sis and I were talking on the phone this afternoon, about this being a good time of year for cleaning up, clearing out, putting away, recycling and donating.  The Christmas decorations are coming down and being tucked back into their boxes and onto their shelves or attic or closet, or wherever you happen to store the things you only use annually.  Whether you made a New Year’s resolution to declutter your space or not, this seems to be the traditional time to consider it.  New Year, new beginning, all that rot.  So here’s me, cheering you on in the effort.  Recycle centers are popping up all over the place, and many towns are issuing recycle boxes to be taken out to the curb, which can save the municipality thousands on landfill charges and help keep the earth cleaner in the process.  And charities who collect clothing, shoes, linens and other household goods are endless.

So where does the title fit in?  Well, I have to thank Sis for that as well.  She mentioned that the pastor of her church talked about going on a mission trip when there was an optometrist in the group.  They went to a very poor part of the world, where eye doctors were not only spare on the ground, 95% of the people there couldn’t have afforded them, anyway.  The group he was with took along many dozen pairs of previously used eyeglasses that had been donated for reuse, and as the doctor examined each patient’s eyes, considered their needs and supplied them with a pair of glasses from the supply that most closely matched their need, the results were amazing.  To see the expressions on the faces of those folks, the first time they looked through lenses that enabled them to actually see things in focus–in some cases for the first time they could even remember–was a blessing for them all.  I almost cry just imagining this scene.  You see, my vision is far from perfect (something like “off the charts” nearsighted, seems to be the technical term).  So had I been born in one of those villages . . . well, as they say, there but for the Grace of God go I.

So think about it.  Got any spare pairs of glasses that are no longer a good prescription for you, just taking up space in a drawer or cupboard somewhere?  Maybe your church has a drop box for collecting these.  Your local Lions Club organization would probably have a pickup point available.  Let a part of your cleaning routine assist someone else to see you as their Angel of Blessing, even if they never get to see you in person.  It’s free to you, and priceless to them.

“American Story” Book Review

“American Story” Book Review

Although my thirst for books is fairly unquenchable, the years have seen a definite alteration in the format.  What began in infancy as strictly a page-turning habit (Thank You, Mother and Daddy!) graduated later to CDs and then Kindle versions and now even audio files that fit easily onto my cell phone and read to me from the comfort of my shirt pocket as I wash dishes in the kitchen, or (more likely) crochet an afghan while in my rocking chair.  My book addiction can be fed at practically any place or time now.  And since we’re coming up on Thanksgiving, I’ll mention again how absolutely grateful I am for public libraries!

One of the most recent audiobooks I checked out was by a TV journalist named Bob Dotson.  Titled American Story:  A Lifetime Search For Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things.   There weren’t many plot twists or big mysteries, but this book was fascinating.  Mr. Dotson–a native of Missouri, and a graduate of KU–has made a career of traveling around and interviewing folks, then broadcasting their true tales on his TV segments on NBC.  Being a bigger reader than I am a TV watcher, I haven’t seen those shows, but now I kinda wish I had.  This guy can really tell a story, and he can condense down the essence of a person as well as Campbell’s does soup.  Bob doesn’t bother with the sensationalist, expose type garbage that seems to clog the airtime of so many features.  Instead, he chooses to shine his spotlight on Real Folks.  Decent, quiet-living people who just happen to be special in some way.

This book is a collection of many of those stories, written from a selection of those interviews he conducted over the years.  My library offered the audiobook as an MP3 file, and it was read by Bob Dotson himself, meaning his own particular inflections and impressions come through all the truer.  And while there are many books I like, this is one I feel comfortable recommending to almost everyone.  It will give you a warm fuzzy feeling, and a renewed faith in people, or as Bob himself put it:  “A geography of hope.”

Well done, Bob Dotson.  Well done.

Meant to Be

Meant to Be

June 13, 1954, was one of the hottest days anyone in the little town of Middletown could remember, for being so early in the summer.  It was also the day my parents stood up before God and Everybody, gazed lovingly into each others’ eyes, and said “I Do”.  It was the day they officially began the journey that has brought them to the present, and now they’re celebrating 60 years together.  What a milestone!

And you know what?  It’s just like the preacher says:  For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others . . . they’ve done all of that, and continue to do so.  Anyone who claims their life has been nothing but rosy and never a cross word has passed between themselves and their partner is either deluding themselves or lying, at least in my opinion.  A successful marriage isn’t built on a lack of conflict, but rather on working through the disagreements, holding each other up through the hard times, and loving each other in spite of everything that might get in the way.  It’s a partnership and a commitment, a devotion to each other by two people who just won’t give up.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Mother and Daddy, I am so absolutely proud of you both.  For the example you’ve set for all of us over the years, for the family life you provided, for the type of people you were, and are, and are yet to become.  Congratulations and Blessings to you on your 60th wedding anniversary, and beyond.

With love and respect,

-J-

photo credit:  Charlie May

photo credit: Charlie May

 

Safety in Numbers

Safety in Numbers

Birds of a feather flock together, they say.  There are numerous names to reflect examples of this; a gaggle of geese, a pride of lions, a pack of wolves, a school of fish, a colony of bats, a parliament of owls.  And then there’s the family of my maternal lineage:  The May Clan.  From the Oxford dictionary online:  Clan  noun a group of close-knit and interrelated families (especially associated with families in the Scottish Highlands).  That’s us.

Stanley Stanton May and Peirrie Belle Lieurance Steele were born within 8 days of each other in early January, 1889.  They married, settled on a farm, and began their family with Charlie David, my grandpa.  Next they had Selma Carolena.  Years later Grandma Peirrie would tell my mother:  “I had my boy, then I had my girl, and I thought Alright, I’ve got my family.  And then I had nine more!”  With a total of seven boys and four girls the household was anything but dull.  And as those children grew up, chose mates, and started families of their own, the legacy grew, and the tradition continued:  of their thirty-three grandchildren, Stanley and Peirrie could boast twenty-nine boys and (again) four girls!  The family developed a habit of getting everyone together for a carry-in dinner/family reunion at least once a year.  Because of the size of the group a local community building or meeting hall was arranged, with everyone pitching in what they could to cover the rent of the venue.  Sometimes in the summer a homemade ice cream social was held.  But for as many years as I can remember, the May Reunion has been the second Sunday in June, and I gladly attend, every time I am able.

By the time Grandma Peirrie died in 1981, she had over one hundred living descendants.  This isn’t counting the husbands and wives, just the direct bloodline.  The procession of cars from the funeral home in Wellsville to the cemetery in Middletown stretched for miles.  My uncle David had flown in from Southern California for the service, and afterward Mother and I rode with him on the drive back to the airport, squeezing in every last moment we could, to visit.

“What do you think will happen now?”  he asked us.  “Will the May Clan fall apart without their matriarch to draw them together?”

“Oh, no!” we assured him, aware that the geographical divide occasioned by his career path had prevented him from witnessing the annual or semi-annual exposure to the group that we enjoyed.  “No, we’re a tight-knit group.  That won’t change.”

And indeed, it has not.  Today’s reunion was attended by at least 77 people.  (We have sign-in sheets by the door, in an attempt to keep track!)  The delicious spread of food could have satisfied a battalion.  But even better than all the fantastic food was simply the time spent in the company of my family . . . to feel safe, and accepted, and loved by so many people.  That’s what the word “clan” means to me.  To see the lines of Grandpa Stanley’s face echoed in Uncle Norman, and to notice reflections of Grandma Peirrie’s cheekbones in several cousins.  It’s a pleasure, and a blessing.  We are their legacy.  We are their Clan.

The Best of All Possible Worlds

The Best of All Possible Worlds

I’m not sure how it works, but can imagine several possible scenarios.  Each of us has a soul, I believe; an internal and eternal being that is unique to every individual.  I speculate these souls take root with conception, as life begins.  But how, exactly, are they matched with the physical form in which they will dwell?  Is it random?  Maybe there’s a big team of angels in Heaven whose sole job is Soul Assignment:  “You, head for Poughkeepsie, you’re up next!” and “Ok, you, I’m sending you to these folks in Wichita, they look really nice.”  It would be a big job.  And what about the people who aren’t so nice, but have kids anyway? It’s not as though we’re required to read a book and pass a test in order to become parents.  Do the souls assigned to the children of Grade-A Jerks get special dispensation ahead of time?  Are they sent specifically to try and help the Jerks change their ways?  Or is it possible that we, in our soul form, look down from the great holding pen in the sky and say “That family.  I want to go there!”  or “See them?  Those are the parents I want.”  I don’t know.  But if that’s the method, then let me just brag a little right here, ’cause then the truth would be that I really know how to pick a mom.

My place in the family was The Baby, as the youngest of three children born to a truly wonderful couple.  Mother told me that she knew she was expecting me within three weeks of my beginning, when something she ate at a New Years Eve party made her stomach stand up and protest in no uncertain terms.  And sure enough, the following September, there I was.  At the hospital, she says, she cried, knowing that this delivery would be her last.  Having always loved children, and being a natural Baby Magnet, Mother treasured each of us kids as if we were more than royalty.  We were expected to mind our manners and do our best, but woe to the hapless person who threatened or harmed one of us at any age:  Mama Bear would appear to defend her cubs!

Mother rocked us and read to us from infancy on, until we could read for ourselves. She cooked and served us three meals a day, which we all ate together at the table on which my computer sits right now.  An excellent seamstress, Mother sewed almost all of our clothes, and did it well.  She packed our lunches for school, was Room Mother for our class parties, baked and decorated our birthday cakes, taught us how to garden, and so many other things, it would take volumes to list them all.  I think I can speak for my siblings as well as myself when I say that she has been our greatest encourager and strongest supporter all of our lives.  For that–and for so much else–I am eternally grateful.

So to my own, and indeed, to all moms out there, Happy Mother’s Day.  May you each feel as blessed as I do.

My beautiful picture

Mommy and Me

My Favorite Teacher

My Favorite Teacher

We meet so many people in a lifetime; some of them make barely a flicker in the surface of the pool that is our being, juxtaposed with those who not only make a splash, but actually create waves.  Our formative years–early childhood and those we spend in school–often echo back to us, long after they’re gone.  Almost everyone seems to have a favorite teacher, or person of influence who brought such pleasure or enlightenment to their life, and made them feel special.  Today I’d like to tell you about mine:  my sister.

If you know me at all, you know that my family is vitally important to me. It’s not just the genealogical, or the historical significance these folks have played in my life, but a bond that is difficult to adequately describe, even though it certainly deserves the effort.  I was fortunate to be born into a family of smart, loving, fun people who have been ever-supportive and inordinately kind.  My brother had the honor of being the first grandson on both sides of the family.  Our sister arrived next, but then within a few years had to start sharing the spotlight with the baby . . . me.  Sometime within those first few months, our mother relates, my siblings were playing outside with the neighbor children.  Janice came in the door and headed directly down the hallway toward the bedrooms.

“What are you doing?”  Mother asked her.

“I’m going to get the baby.”  Janice replied.  “I want to show her to our friends.”

“Oh, no you’re not!  She’s sleeping now, and besides, you don’t get to just pick her up and take her anywhere you want,” she was told.

Janice (less than four years old at the time) took an indignant stance.  “But you said she is our baby!”

Suffice it to say that the neighbor kids got to meet me in due time, and my big sister didn’t put me in any danger that day, or any other.  The possessive attitude expressed then has evolved and matured into a discreet and gentle protectiveness which honors me more than words can say, and which I try to return, although not always with the same gentleness or discretion.

When we shared a bedroom as children, my sister humored me by getting up and closing the closet door against the imagined monsters lurking inside.

When I got in trouble at school, she silently stood by me as I had to confess my sin to the stiff and stern first-grade teacher I’d wronged.

When I was 16 and wanted pierced ears, it was Janice who convinced Daddy to say “OK” to her taking me to the mall and getting this done as my Christmas present.

And it’s pretty easy to guess the one person I chose to stand beside me in church as I recited my wedding vows 30 years ago.

If we’re lucky, we keep growing and learning even after our school days are behind us.  Prime examples of gentility, humanity, goodness, charity, and compassion can be found in many places, though not often all wrapped up in one special package.  As it turned out, my sister became a teacher, and works with special needs students at a middle school in Texas.  She puts in long hours and does a great job.  She juggles a busy life with her family, her job, church, book group, neighbors and friends.  And yet, she still makes time to talk with her baby sister on the phone two or three times a week.  I treasure those conversations.  And yes, I’m still learning from her!

Happy Birthday, Sis.

I love you!

 

photo credit Alma Weilmuenster

Picture This!

Picture This!

In 1950, the U S Army drafted my daddy into service.  Of course, he wasn’t my daddy yet then, or anybody else’s either; that came later.  While stationed in Korea, however, at the PX (Post Exchange) he bought a 35mm camera, a Leica.  It had a black metal chassis with an orange peel texture, and a brown leather strap he would hang over his neck to keep it handy for those opportune moments.  The flash attachment looked like a small stainless steel lady’s fan when collapsed, but unfurled into a reflective daisy blossom with a blue glass center once the flashbulb was plugged and twisted into it.  One bulb, one flash.  The bulbs weren’t cheap, so many photos were taken outside or near windows during the daytime, where natural lighting made using the flash unnecessary.

The 35mm film could either be turned into prints or slides.  Once you had the slide, you could always have a print made from it, but not the other way around, so Daddy’s color film was often processed into slides. The little white cardboard frames made them easy to number and  store standing up in a tray-type box with slots, and there was a paper chart that just fit inside the lid of the metal box, on which the subject matter of each corresponding slide was recorded.  It was always a special night when the slide projector came out of the box and the tripod with its telescoping bar was set up and the screen raised and suspended from the top of the bar.  Picture time!  We’d review happy memories of birthdays, vacations, trips downtown to see the riverboats on the Mississippi, visits from family members or other special guests.  We got to enjoy these episodes all over again, by way of the slide shows.

Daddy is 85 now, but not a man to be left behind the times.  Through the wonders of modern technology, a home computer and a program called Photoshop, he’s going through those old slides–many of which have faded to a bluish cast over the years–and reworking the colors on the digitally converted images.  He sent several to me via email.  While it’s not quite the same effect as sitting on the floor with my siblings in a darkened room with the hum of the projector’s cooling fan motor in the background, it still gives me a chance to relive some pretty neat times. I’m thankful for so many things our parents provided us, and for the thought they put into preserving our history in pictures.  Thank you, Daddy, for continuing that effort!

Here’s an example, both before, and after:

J.  with doll (before)     J. and doll (after)

Let’s NOT have a Party

Let’s NOT have a Party

First, a disclaimer about the picture.  It is not from this week, or even this year.  There’s snow outside right now, but not this much.  It does, however, depict pretty well how cold it has felt all this week, and how the weather folks predict it’s going to stay for the next five days or so.  BRRRR!  (shiver)!

So maybe it’s the winter blahs, or the cold-weather blues, but tonight I’m fighting the pull of having a party.  Not the fun kind . . . a Pity Party.  At first I thought “Naw, I can’t write about that; people will just think I’m out for attention.”  But the more I considered, I realized it’s likely a rather common feeling right now.  With Christmas and New Years behind us, several weeks of winter still ahead, and Valentines Day coming up next week, it’s primetime for a little non-tropical depression. If you’ve been in the greeting card aisle (or the candy section, or the holiday racks) of a store lately, maybe you’ve felt it too.  In looking for a sweet Valentine to send my parents or my grandchildren, all I seem to see are the perfect sentiments to send to someone who’s not here to receive them anymore.  And it hurts.  It hurts to the point that I have tried three times to complete this errand, only to leave empty handed from every trip.

So to give myself something to look forward to, I sent a message to the Son-of-my-House, offering to pick up the kids after school next Friday, in case he’d like to meet his sweetheart after work for a special dinner.  The grandkids and I could bake cookies, or watch a movie (Pirates!) or work a jigsaw puzzle together.  Maybe even defrock the Christmas tree . . . well.  We’ll see about that.

Perhaps you’re mourning, too, or missing a friend, a partner, a parent, a sibling, a child.  If so, I am sincerely sorry.  It may not help to read it, but I know the feeling, and sympathize.   Now tell me how you cope?  What’s your best answer for NOT having a Pity Party?  Use the “comment” link above, next to my name!

Acceptance

Acceptance

So far, I’ve been really careful to stick to topics that are benign and (hopefully) not offensive to anyone who might be reading, and all-in-all that’s probably the best policy.  But after watching just a little dab of the six o’clock news this evening, I’m perturbed.  Those of you who know me well are already aware that I think so-called Political Correctness can often be taken to ridiculous extremes.  But there comes a point when I have to get out the ol’ Soap Box and just climb on up there.  Today is one of those days.

Without naming names or places or denominations, the situation is this:  two women were denied communion at the church they’d been attending for more than ten years (and where they were members and active participants) because when the mother of one of them died, it was printed in the newspaper obituary that they were “partners”.  The news was delivered to them just before the funeral service, during which the celebration of Holy Communion would be included as a part.  Surely it’s not just me thinking this was especially insensitive, if not downright mean.

I’m no preacher, and certainly no saint, but I try to live by the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments.  Jesus said “judge not, lest ye be judged”, right?  It could be argued that I’m judging the religious leader of that congregation for a decision about which I don’t know all the facts.  The ladies in question were willing to speak for the news camera, while their (former) pastor was not.  And yes, they’ve now found another church to attend where they feel welcome.

(Sigh).  Why can’t we all just play nice?

Wordless Wednesday #2

Wordless Wednesday #2

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday!

Happy 6th Birthday to our Little Miss Sunshine!

photo credit:  Jennifer L. Martinez