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