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

 

For Dads Everywhere, But Most Especially for Mine!

For Dads Everywhere, But Most Especially for Mine!

From the looks of the social media sites on the internet today, it would seem that a preponderance of people share the notion that their dad is (or was) the greatest one of all. If you subscribe to the belief that we are all Children of God, then we can each have the idea that our Father is supreme over all, and be right! When it comes to human fathers, though, not everyone is as fortunate as I am, and that’s a sad thing.

Before the era of training wheels and child helmets–say around 1959 or so, my dad jogged alongside a little blue Schwinn bicycle, simultaneously bending over at an awkward angle to the side to steady the vehicle and the tenuous rider (my brother) as he learned to achieve balance while coasting or pedaling. Over the next several years, he repeated this process as my sister and I each became old enough to graduate from the tricycle. He also built and demonstrated stilts, rigged a makeshift swing out of a sanded board, a rope and a pulley in the garage, taught us how to play ping pong, pool, chess, and word games, and helped us memorize poetry.  He played the guitar or mandolin for sing-alongs, got us all started on learning piano as children, and even now, at almost 88 years old, is teaching the complex Classic Finger-style 5-string banjo method that he knows to my sister.

My siblings and I have always known that our dad is super smart, and that any new subject that truly interests him will be read about, studied, and analyzed until Daddy has a firm understanding of the matter. Among many other talents, he can sketch, paint signs and pictures, began learning German in his 60s, and can tell a joke better than anyone I know. A lifelong willing student, these past two months he’s been learning things that he might well have hoped he would never need to know:  those various duties that go along with living alone. It’s been hard, and he’s grieving, but he is trying, and it shows.

Daddy, I am so proud of you. Just remember, you weathered the challenge of raising me. That should mean you can do anything!  Happy Father’s Day!

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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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Walking Wounded

Walking Wounded

Did you ever read that book titled Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus?  It’s been years, but I did.  One of the things it pointed out was how when women voice their concerns about something to other women, they usually receive sympathy, or empathy, or some other word for an emotional response.  Women commiserate.  Men, on the other hand, tend to put on their Mr. Fix-It hats and look for a solution.  This is not a bad thing, it’s just one of the many wonderful ways in which the genders differ.

This week I (finally) went through the process of taking my late husband’s name off the accounts where I bank.  Everything was going just fine until the account manager brought out the papers from ‘way back when . . . the ones that showed Larry’s signature.  His handwriting.  The definite way he dotted the letter “i”.  The controlled curve at the base of the “L”.  So familiar; so painful to see again.  The kind lady at the bank ducked into the supply closet and came back with a box of tissues.  I just wanted to hurry up and get this ordeal over.

At lunch afterward I told the ladies at the table about it.  Bless them:  sympathy all around.  Virtual-if-not-actual hugs.  Support and sad smiles.  Of course they understood!

Three days later I sat between two male co-workers (who are also good friends), waiting for a meeting to start.  “How’s it going?” one of them asked.  I relayed the Bank Debacle.  “I feel like I’ll never be right again, even though it’s been more than three years,” I told them, “like I’m the Walking Wounded.”

“Well, of course you are”, my friend V. said matter-of-factly.  “You shouldn’t expect not to be.”  Friend T. agreed.

“The word you need to emphasize is Walking” he told me.  “Wounded is a given; just remember you’re still Walking.”

Wow.  He was so right.

I’m Still Walking.

As the French say:  Vive la Différence!

O Tannenbaum!

O Tannenbaum!

The following is a reprint of my Christmas holiday post on the Goodreads site from last year.  The sentiment remains! 

Everyone’s been busy with their holiday preparations and celebrations. Christmas is my favorite holiday, without doubt. The carols and cards and candles, the wrapping paper and (more recently) gift bags, garlands and bows and ribbons and wreaths and the spirit of giving, the Cookies!  And let’s not forget the Reason for the Season! But through all the years, almost every Christmas season, one of my favorite activities is decorating the Christmas Tree.

My siblings likely recall a few more fresh trees than I do, from the Boy Scouts’ sale corral on the parking lot at our church when we were young. By the time I’d turned 10 our parents had an artificial tree, which meant no one had to crawl underneath the sappy, pokey branches to put water in the bowl of the stand, and Mother didn’t have to battle so many pine needles in the living room rug. Even better, we could usually sweet-talk Daddy into bringing in the box that held the tree the evening of Thanksgiving, so that the holiday decorating could begin. Most of the year this box was balanced across boards in the open-ceiling area of the garage, so the extraction of it involved at least one ladder, some tricky balancing, and no small amount of dust which inevitably tried to halo Daddy’s head for his trouble, but choked his nostrils and dang-near blinded him instead. The air was blue from it afterward. . . or maybe from the comments it elicited in the process.

Once the box had been wiped off and brought into the house, though, the fun began. Sorting and assembling the branches, shaping them to look just so, disentangling the lights and testing bulbs on the strands that weren’t working, and then the Main Event: the ornaments. These days there’s a tendency toward “theme” trees, where all the decorations are coordinated to appear matching or complementary and quite lovely. Not me; I’m a sentimental traditionalist all the way. Almost no ornament is too shabby from age or humble in its design to pass muster for my tree.

I’ve often said that for only raising one child, we got a heck of a return on our investment: four grandchildren! Yesterday I really hit the jackpot when they helped to move things around to clear out a corner of my living room and put up the nine-foot tree that brushes the ceiling of this old farmhouse. As we opened the boxes and took out particular ornaments they heard the provenance for so many of them: “This one we bought as a souvenir on our first family trip to Colorado to visit Papa’s folks; this one was sent to your mama when she was just a baby; that stocking was mine when I was your age; these were made by your Great-Grandma; those came from the set my parents bought in 1955!” and so on. And yes, there were a few tears when I located the sack that contained a few more, including the last one that Larry had picked out himself, the memory of that occasion clear as a bell. The children and I agreed that Papa would be pleased to see us getting the tree up to enjoy and hanging that ornament while thinking of him.

And so, new memories are formed. My hope is that some day down the line, these precious ones will be decorating their own trees with the families they raise, and will cradle a delicate striped glass bulb or a hand-sewn stuffed felt dove in their hand and maybe relate something about it to their own little ones. If not, at least to see the old familiar bits mixed in with their own newer collections, and feel the family love that they symbolize, along with God’s love for us all. (see John 3:16)

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

Colorful Memories

Colorful Memories

We all have a mental storage cabinet that holds memory files full of various events from our lives.  Some good, some bad, some meh.  And the older we get, the more stuffed those cranial cubicles become, often making it difficult to retrieve specific bits of information just exactly when we want them, sort of like that junk drawer or closet where you shove odds and ends that you don’t know where else to put.  (Admit it, we’ve all got one!)

But memories are odd, in that they can be triggered to float to the top of the heap in many ways:  an unusual odor, a specific sound, the sight of a certain place or thing or even a particular shade of color.  This season of the year brings the changing wardrobe of the trees, and I’ve witnessed a multitude of beautiful hues over the last few weeks.  The fact that we had decent rainfall this year had to have helped this process, as well as the rather temperate summer.  Regardless of the cause, though, I’m awed by the beauty and think–yet again–what an artist is our Creator.

Yesterday, my friend Karen and I were traveling the short distance from her house to a local restaurant for supper, and stopped along the way to take photos of the trees in the cemetery.  The sun was sinking into the western horizon just enough to make the orange leaves of one specimen absolutely glow.  Another tree had lost most of its splendor into a 30′ diameter carpet of color, which reminded me of the walks I took with my Sweetheart, not long after we began to date back in 1983.  We were still young enough then to enjoy running over to a raked-up pile of freshly-fallen leaves and jumping into them.  It’s a sweet memory, and it makes me smile.

We stood by the stone that bears his name and the date that he left us: three years ago today.  I told Karen about that time ‘way back then, and how I think of it every Fall. We talked about how many things have changed in those three years, and how it doesn’t seem like it could possibly be that long since he was here with us.  We rehashed several other memories, over dinner, of Larry, of her parents, and many other things.  I’m fortunate to have such a friend.

If summer is the time to “stop and smell the roses” as they say, then maybe Autumn ought to be the season of recollection.  Open up that vault of memories, pull out a few favorites and enjoy them once more.  I’ll close this with a quote from our daughter.

“Don’t take for granted what you have when you have it, for one day you may not.  Let stress go, let love sink in, and hold good memories forever.”  –Jennifer Martinez 

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