Remembrance

Remembrance

Last weekend was a busy culmination to a week that had been jam-packed with activity. It was great to be able to attend two of my grandson’s junior-high basketball games, ride my little gelding Tanner twice, see a late movie on opening night with my friends the Neufelds, (John Wick Chapter 2!), and then participate in an excellent fund-raising event for a cousin who is battling cancer on Saturday. To top that off, two of my cousins who were helping to spearhead the event opened their home to me–and another set of cousins–afterward, so we didn’t have to drive home in the middle of the night. The dinner, featuring BBQ pork, beef brisket, veggies, homemade rolls, and a wide assortment of desserts, was fantastic. The raffles and auctions were exciting and productive. The turnout by the folks in their small-town community of Wellsville, Missouri,  was truly amazing. People dug deep and gave from their hearts, and it was such an inspiration.

Somehow, the five of us managed to tumble out of our beds before 8am on Sunday; no small feat, considering at least two of us were up until almost 4am, chatting and unwinding from all the excitement! And when all four cousins agreed to join me for my side trip to the cemetery in Middletown where so many of our kinfolk have been laid to rest, I was grateful. It’s not that I’m opposed to going there alone, but somehow, it took a bit of the sting out of the grief of putting new silk flowers at my mother’s grave, having Desiree and Paul, Jeff and Linda at my side. Then we meandered around the place, paying our respects at as many of the headstones of our family members as we could find, and admiring the art forms exhibited on many of the markers.

This one, for instance, at the edge of an older part of the cemetery, wasn’t for anyone we knew. On the front is carved “Our Children”, and the date on one side is from 1865. Many names and dates we saw served as reminders of the days when childhood mortality, and even the loss of women in childbirth. was much more prevalent than we see today. It made us feel lucky to be born when we were, and appreciative of the fact that we haven’t had to face the hardships that so many of our ancestors did.

Near the opposite border of this extensive bit of land, closer to the road, we located the grave of Charley and Carrie (or Caroline) Steele, the couple who adopted my great-grandmother Peirrie Belle when she was a nine years old. Because their parents had died young, Peirrie (pronounced Peery) and her four siblings were split up, mostly among the families of relatives. The Steeles were friends of the parents, however, and had no children of their own, and so legally adopted my great-grandmother. She was loved and provided for, and raised almost as an only child from that point, and she returned this honor by naming my grandfather (the first of her eleven children) Charlie, and her next child Selma Carolena. So you can imagine our delight in finding here, amid all the dry brown grass of mid-February, the first sign of the Springtime to come:  a beautiful cluster of purple crocus, blooming just in front of their stone. And while we might never learn who planted them there, at least we know someone remembered. Someone, at some time, took a moment to slip those little bulbs down into the soil, knowing they’d sprout up each year as a beacon of Life renewed, and a hope for the future, a promise of the big Family Reunion we all hope to attend one day.

Won’t it be grand?

Weird Weather

Weird Weather

Grandpa Charlie May used to say:  “Don’t like the weather in Missouri? Stick around a day or two; it’ll change.” For all that it is now early November, the lawn’s still green, my trees still have a lot of leaves, and we’ve felt temperatures up around 80 this week. Usually we’ve had a good hard frost by now, if not a dusting of snow. Don’t misunderstand me on this, as I am not complaining . . . it’s just weird!

A few days ago I read a post on social media that mentioned a lilac bush putting on buds. As you can see in the photo above, some branches on the south side of my Forsythia bush have blossoms.  A little anemic-looking, but blossoms, nonetheless. And last weekend while visiting Daddy, I saw a really nice surprise:  a violet, peeking out from between the autumn leaves by the steps of the deck out back. Later that morning I found two more while Sis and I were helping him rake leaves (and huge acorns!) from under the big Burr Oak tree.  Violets.  Pretty, deep purple violets!

To say that violets are one of my favorite flowers is, perhaps, an understatement. More than a thing of beauty, violets hold a sentimental significance dating back to my early years. They grew scattered around my grandparents’ lawn, like tiny treasures sprinkled randomly by the Easter bunny each spring. I found them sprouting around the ivy and the ferns and the Lily of the Valley in the yard at home, and would occasionally pick one and take it to my mama. It turned into a sort of ritual, as each year after I went away to school, and even in the years beyond, when the weather began to warm, she’d pick the first violet she saw, press it between a tissue or paper towel, and send it to me.  I would do the same, either with a violet, or a dogwood blossom, or both, just a “Thinking of you” tradition we had.

After Mother’s funeral last April, my sister came in the back door of our parents’ house, and advised me to go sit on the swing under the arbor when I had a moment. Curious, but too numbed by grief to ask why, I did as she’d instructed. Sprouting up around and between the bricks and stones of the walkway were dozens and dozens of violets. . . a deluge of emotional symbols, right there at my feet. Sobbing, I sat on the swing for a long time. “I haven’t left you,” it seemed my mother’s voice was saying to me through those flowers. “I’m right here.”

So. Say what you will about global warming or weird weather or whatever. I’ll take violets in November. Any year.

21 April 1990

21 April 1990

 

Turquoise Table, Anyone?

Turquoise Table, Anyone?

Sunday of last weekend being Father’s Day, I had to brag on my Daddy just a little. He claimed it was overdone, but I assure you, it was the mere Tip of the Iceberg, as they say. But in an effort to keep myself out of trouble, this week we’ll focus not on my dad, but on his neighbors. Oh boy, does he have great neighbors!

My parents watched their house as it was being built in 1955. Several blocks of similar-style homes were erected in those post-war years, and young families full of Baby Boomer children filled the suburbs. But as the kids grew up and went off to college or work, and moved in to their own homes, it seemed the ol’ neighborhood wasn’t as fun. Housewives didn’t visit over the back fence while hanging out the laundry to dry, because they were almost all gone to work now, or had the luxury of electric clothes dryers, or both. There weren’t as many school-aged kids on the block, or maybe it was just that, with their own offspring grown and gone, my parents had fewer connections with youngsters. It seemed a bit of a blue time.

But change is inevitable, and sometimes if you stick around an area long enough, you’re blessed to see things turn around for the better. My dad might be one of the few original residents on his block now, but some really fantastic people have moved in around him. And a few houses down, Leah and Forrest Hall have opened their front lawn–and their hearts–to create an area of welcome. Following the example of Kristin Schnell (http://www.kristinschell.com/the-turquoise-table/ )they set up a picnic table parallel to the street, delivered invitations to their neighbors, and are fostering a feeling of community every week with a bag of bagels, coffee and conversation, and smiles all around. Everyone is welcome. Ideas are exchanged, family news is shared, and an aura of peace prevails. It’s a ministry of sorts, and one of the best kind, in my opinion, as it involves reaching out to those in one’s immediate vicinity. For while it’s perfectly fine to write a check to provide aid to people half-way around the world, there is something true about the old adage that “charity starts at home”. In this case, it’s an offering of self; of time, of friendship, and of acceptance.

Now, if I could just figure out how to convey the concept of the Turquoise Table to my birddog Jethro BoneDean and the cats, there’d be peace around this ol’ farmhouse, too.  Oh, Leah . . .?!

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Weathering the Storms of Life

Weathering the Storms of Life

For almost 33 years, I have been truly fortunate to be employed by the claims department of a Mid-Missouri based insurance company. (No, this isn’t a commercial, so I’m not mentioning their name). With decent pay, very good benefits, and some really fantastic co-workers, I consider myself lucky to have happened into this career just a few months after college graduation. But as anyone in the auto and/or property claims industry can tell you, storms can make things pretty hectic. As one of my former supervisors put it:  Job Security. It didn’t take me long to realize he was taking a challenging situation and describing it in a positive light.

Our lives are full of challenging situations, aren’t they? Does it ever feel to you as though you keep moving from one trauma to the next? Have you ever stood with your back to one mirror while holding up another little mirror in front of you, just to make sure you weren’t wearing a target? If so, I know the feeling! Truth is, I’m betting we all do.

Somewhere I saw a poster that said:  “Be kind.  Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” It struck me as simple, but surely true. It’s frustrating, aggravating, or even hurtful, when we feel disrespected or simply ignored, when–with little or no real effort–the same people doing these things could offer a listening ear, a word of encouragement, or a sincere smile.

Here’s a little poem, written by Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833-1870):

“Life is mainly froth and bubble

Two things stand like stone

Kindness in another’s trouble

Courage in your own.”

That pretty much sums up my message, right there. Here’s to seeing things in a positive light. Remember, once in a while after the storm, we catch a glimpse of a rainbow!

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photo credits:  “Storm Clouds” by Kelly Zimmerschied and “Double Rainbow” by Kendall Wills Sterling

 

Going Home Again

Going Home Again

The Thomas Wolfe line “you can’t go home again” is widely quoted, with various connotations.  I have to admit that I’ve not read anything Mr. Wolfe wrote (or at least not that I can recall; high school was a long time ago!), so if the context here is ill-applied, mea culpa.

My parents watched their house being built in 1955, and still live there today.  But they both had roots–hers deeper than his–in a small town about 80 miles away, where we were fortunate to be frequent visitors with both sets of grandparents, a few great-grandparents, some aunts and uncles, and lots of cousins.  To me, this seemed like my rightful “hometown”, and I still stop by there now and then, mostly to place silk flowers at numerous headstones in the cemetery where 5 generations of my kin now rest.  It’s a peaceful place, that hillside by the little white Methodist church, and there are definitely more folks in the cemetery now than there are left in that tiny, sleepy town.

Cruising slowly up Cherry Street after my stop at the kirkyard, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to look at the once-proud old Victorian house that had been my maternal grandparents’ home.  Houses require upkeep, and this one hasn’t received the TLC it deserves.  Roofing, paint, and window work would be a good start, and probably some updates to the heating, plumbing and electrical systems as well.  And it’s possible the foundation could use some shoring up, and those weeds out back ought to be mowed!  I bemoaned the condition of the place to my cousin Kerry L., and received in return his kind words of wisdom, which were something along the lines of:  “Whether the house is there or not, your memories remain.  It’s the people who lived there and the time you spent with them that you miss.”

And you know what?  He is so right.  Just topping the hill on the two-lane highway approaching town, made the words “I see the Bridge!” pop into my head, just as my siblings and I raced to be the first to say them each time we were driven there for a visit.  The sight of the flagpole in the middle of the crossroads by the funeral parlor immediately brings to mind the dinner table tales of Daddy being paid a nickel (and later a dime!) to shimmy up and shine the metal ball at the top.  The fact that the driveway to the house is overgrown now doesn’t dim my joyous recollection of hopping out of the station wagon, racing to the front door to be enveloped in my grandma’s embrace, and promptly being offered some warm-from-the-oven pie crust with cinnamon sugar baked on top.  “These pieces were left over” she would tell us, “would you children like to clean this up?”, as if we were doing her a big favor by assuaging our hunger with a sweet treat before dinner.  Grandpa’s books, the card games he always won (we didn’t mind, he beat Everyone!) Grandma’s paintings, the high-ceilinged bedroom upstairs with tall windows in three walls that were angled so that we could see up and down the street as well as straight across . . . the memories go on and on.  They’re here, in my head and in my heart, where they will stay and be treasured.

And in this way, even through the grief of loss, there is the celebration of what was.  And what it was, was pretty special.

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Guardian Angels

Guardian Angels

More than once I’ve seen a car with a bumper sticker that says “Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly”. Sound advice, to be sure, and maybe good for a smile, but what if we’re not driving? Do they think our heavenly helpers just get to lounge around on meringue-flavored clouds, admiring their never-need-buffing nails, as long as we mere mortals are not mobilized? Believe me, I’m more of a challenge than that.

How many times have you done something that seemed like the right choice at the moment (or maybe the wrong choice, but you were doing it anyway!), and then afterward considered what the potential outcome could have been, and realized Divine Intervention was probably the only thing that had stood between You and Disaster. How many of us now, as adults, consider what a wonder it is that we actually lived past our teens? Welcome to the “do as I say, not as I did” years! But sadly, being a grown-up doesn’t exempt us from needing a guardian now and then.

I believe God often puts us in a position to act on behalf of those guardians, too. Last weekend, when the serpentine belt on my old Suburban snapped, it just so happened that this occurred one mile away from an exit ramp not far from where my cousin Brian lives, and that he was home and had the tools and the knowledge and ability to replace it, and that the parts store was open at the time.  Out of a 200 mile trip, this was the best possible place for that belt to give way.  (OK, so this is a “driving” example, but it’s the one that’s freshest on my mind!)  Thanks to my cousin, I was back on the highway for home in good time, and none the worse for the experience. Thank you, Brian May!

When have you felt the presence of your Guardian Angel, either celestial or earthly? Leave a comment and tell us about it. Even Angels need a sincere “thank you” now and then!

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