Posts Tagged ‘memories’

Roughing It

Wednesday, July 9, 2014
No Gravatar

A few days ago, my daughter approached me with her hands on her hips, her head cocked and her voice dripping with exasperation.

“Well, mom,” she said. “Your great experiment failed.”

I had no idea what she was talking about, and I said so.

“This whole not using the dryer thing,” she explained. “It’s not working.”

I still didn’t understand what she meant, so she slowed her words and paused between each one.

“The      towels      are     rough      and    my     t-shirts    are     stiff,” she explained.

“That’s because they weren’t dried in the dryer,” I said. “The dryer fluffs things.”

“Exactly,” she said.

I understood her perspective, but she didn’t understand mine – which was that dryer needed a replacement part and running it would break it completely. Besides, dryers use a great deal of electricity, and electricity costs a great deal of money. I’m all for saving electricity.

Our brief and pointless conversation was ironic.

Just days earlier, I’d had a conversation with co-workers about the benefits of drying laundry on a clothesline. I expressed the intense embarrassment I’d experienced as an adolescent when my mom had hung all of our laundry, including underwear, on clotheslines and drying racks in our backyard for the neighbors to see. A colleague, who is younger than me but grew up in the country, said everyone dried their clothes outside when he was growing up.  Another, who is older than me but who grew up in the suburbs of Washington D.C., said she had tried drying clothes outside once but her sheets were full of bugs.  The only consensus we reached about line-drying clothes is that is much cheaper.

And then my dryer started making a funny noise and I decided that cheaper is sometimes better, and we don’t need technology as much as society tries to tell us we do.  Humans survived for hundreds of years without it, and even my own generation once made do with much less.

I remember my family’s first color television, first microwave oven, first electric typewriter, first answering machine and  first touch-tone phone. And I most definitely remember our first computer, which required us to insert a floppy disc with the operating system. I never dreamed of voice mail, cell phones, the internet, laptop computers or being able to rewind live television.

My children can’t remember a world when they didn’t have all of that technology at their fingertips.

Their disbelief reminds me of trying to understand how my grandparents had lived without television, telephones or running water. It also reminds me of a moment in my own childhood, when my grandparents had traveled from Michigan to Oregon to visit my family.

My grandmother was helping my brother Sean clean his pet hamster’s cage. “You need to use elbow grease,” she said.

My brother looked at her and said, “I don’t think Mom buys that. Should I ask her to go to the store?”

My grandmother laughed and explained that elbow grease is something that comes from within. It is the effort each person uses to get the job done.

I am thinking about that moment as I sit on my back porch in the dark. I am fortunate that there is still a battery in my laptop computer so I can write. My son is sitting at the picnic table at the other end of the deck reading a book to the glow of a lantern.

A storm blew through my town a few hours ago, and there was a fire at the local substation. The power has been out for hours.

I can’t say I’m pleased with this turn of events. The slight inconvenience of drying laundry on a clothesline is nothing compared to the worry about the food in our refrigerator going bad, the temperature in the house getting too hot, our lack of internet and television or, most important to my kids, our inability to charge our mobile devices.

And yet, as I write this on a laptop with a depleting battery, I am enjoying the gentle breeze blowing through the leaves of the oak tree that rules the backyard and the dance of the fireflies against the dark sky. I am enjoying the fact that the only noise I hear is the sound of crickets. And I am enjoying the fact that, just for a moment, I can understand a world that used to exist. A world that depended less on electricity and more on imagination and personal relationships.

A world in which kids accepted rough towels and the need for elbow grease.

Independence Day

Wednesday, July 2, 2014
No Gravatar

I had a flashback to the Summer of 1976 while riding my bike the other day. The rubber on my back tire had split, and the damaged tire was slowing me down.1976

Instead of recognizing the problem, I blamed myself. I thought I wasn’t pedaling hard enough, which is the same accusation I made of myself during the Bicentennial Parade on the Fourth of July in 1976.  That parade  provided some of the hardest, but most meaningful, lessons of my childhood.

I grew up in a small town in Central Oregon where summer meant two things: being outside and celebrating the Fourth of July.

Being outside involved building forts in Juniper trees, capturing tadpoles in irrigation ditches, swimming lessons at Kah-Nee-Ta Resort and riding our bikes everywhere. Bike helmets weren’t even a consideration back in those days. We only worried about skinned knees, and, when the temperatures were cooler, getting our bell bottom pants caught in the chains of our bikes. But during the warm days of summer, we were wearing shorts, and our greatest concern was how to decorate our bikes for the Fourth of July parade.

Everyone in Madras Oregon participated in the parade. Adults and children planned and prepared for months, and the anticipation of  the annual event increased dramatically for America’s Bicentennial. As soon as the calendar turned to January 1976, the planning was on. Every activity and event highlighted America’s 200th birthday.

During  Girl Scout events, all the girls wore Betsy Ross inspired outfits.

During school programs, we sang patriotic songs.

And almost all the clothes in stores that year were red, white and blue.

But, in the eyes of the kids, nothing was more important than how we decorated our bikes for the Fourth of July Parade. As I recall, there was a prize for the best decorated bike, which only partly explains why we took the task so seriously. Prize or not, kids on bikes led the parade and finished in time to catch a ride on the fire engines that wrapped it up.

With all that at stake, we took decorating our bikes in theme very seriously. We had always woven streamers through the spokes and threaded them through our handle bars, but the Bicentennial parade was something special and required extra effort.

My friend Shannon and I had a plan for how to make a statement. Instead of riding bicycles, we decided to ride tricycles with signs that said “Ready for the Tricentennial.” I don’t remember where we got the trikes. Perhaps they were from her brother Kip or perhaps they were sitting around my parents’ garage.

All I know is that my nine-year old knees and legs were much too long to ride a small tricycle with any efficiency. On the day of the parade, I gathered with all of my peers at the start of the parade. When everyone else sped off, I didn’t. I could barely pedal the well-decorated but much-too-small trike. Before long, I was trying to keep up with the antique cars. And by the time I realized I’d be faster if I simply pushed the trike, I was with the floats. When the fire truck with all my peers on board passed by, I felt completely defeated. Despite that, I didn’t quit. But I was extremely embarrassed by my poor showing.

Thirty-eight years later I’m not embarrassed at all. Instead, I proud of that little girl and her perseverance.

Life has a way of encouraging us to re-think our memories and identify how they can help in the future. As a mom, I appreciate the  benefit of of  perspective and a life time of experience. I’ve learned a great deal from both.

I’ve learned being embarrassed does not equate to failure. In fact, being embarrassed simply means you went outside your comfort zone, which is something winners always do.

I’ve learned that finishing what you start means more than a first place ribbon.

I’ve learned that blaming ourselves when something doesn’t go as planned is pointless. Sometimes, the circumstances are beyond our control: the tire is flat or the distance to the pedals too short. Sometimes, we don’t have the resources we need, like a bigger or faster bike. And sometimes we are simply out of our element.

I’ve also learned that  life can’t be truly enjoyed if we try to measure it in terms of success or failure. Life requires that we cheer on those who are ahead on the parade route and encourage those who never have a chance to ride the fire engines.

Most of all, I’ve learned to appreciate having the freedom to make mistakes, the luxury of having the independence to talk about those mistakes, the opportunity to fix the flat tires that life sometimes delivers and the importance of recognizing that we can’t control every aspect of our lives.

This Fourth of July, neither of my children will be participating in or attending a parade as I did when I was young. Despite that, I have no doubt they will be turning to me for ideas about how to celebrate. And I’m almost positive, I’ll suggest we take a family bike ride.

Unforgettable Fun

Wednesday, June 25, 2014
No Gravatar

I made a huge mistake last Friday. I asked my daughter if she wanted to do something fun with me on Saturday.

I had forgotten that, in Kendall’s almost 13-year-old mind, there is only one situation that involves both mom and fun: shopping.

But she didn’t just want to go to the nearby mall where we usually shop. She requested we go to a much larger mall in the D.C. suburbs, and she only wanted to shop in stores that have clothes fashionable enough for nearly 13-year old girls. For the record, these are the exact same stores where she shops at the nearby mall and, from what I could tell, the clothes were exactly the same too.

The day was hard on pocketbook, hard on my feet and hard on my patience.

But I tolerated the shopping trip knowing that the next day we would be having real fun.

We were going hiking.hiking - Copy

But in Kendall’s almost 13-year-old mind, there is absolutely no situation that involves fun and hiking.

At first, I think she forgot that. As we were getting ready to go, she asked what she should wear. (For some reason, she asks me this every day. When I make a suggestion, she rolls her eyes and tells me what she thinks of my suggestion. Then, she wears what she wants and we repeat the routine the next day.)

I advised her to wear a t-shirt and sturdy shoes.  Per usual, she ignored my advice and wore  a newly purchased floral top, matching shoes and new prescription glasses she wears to see long distances. She asked if I liked the look.

This time, I rolled my eyes.

By the time we actually arrived in Harper’s Ferry, she was already complaining that she didn’t want to waste her whole day on a trail.

While my son forged ahead, she was demanding an explanation about the purpose of the hike. When my husband told her that someday she would appreciate it, she scoffed at the idea. IMG_3502When we joined up with a large pack of Boy Scouts at the overlook, she stopped complaining and seemed to enjoy the view and the company.

Then I made the mistake of suggesting we complete the hike along the ridge, which added additional hours to our time  in the woods and on the mountain. While I enjoyed the challenge, nobody else in the family did, especially my daughter. The only solace I could provide was the promise of a hot dog and ice cream at the end of the trail.

The hike, and subsequent meal out, were hard on my pocketbook, hard on my feet and hard on my patience.

But despite my daughter’s complaints, I thoroughly enjoyed the day and the memories we made. Something tells me my daughter will also remember the hike long after she forgets the trip to the mall. I’m also fairly confident that those memories will be good ones.

That’s how life works.

Despite our disagreements and dislikes, stepping outside our comfort zones and testing our endurance always builds our confidence. When we do it with people we love, it’s even more meaningful.

And when we do it together with family, it’s unforgettable.

Decision Times

Wednesday, March 26, 2014
No Gravatar

I was organizing old photograph albums on a shelf in the basement when I found a journal from my teenage years. I picked  up thedr-seuss-memory-quote spiral-bound notebook filled with sprawling cursive writing, but I only read a few lines before  putting it down.

I’d thought I would enjoy reminiscing with the author, but I realized that I didn’t even recognize her. I recalled the events and even many of the emotions she described, but I didn’t remember the girl.

Experience and time have distorted my memories of the teenage girl I once was, and even though I still have a great deal in common with her, we are now very different people. And in reading those few journal entries, I found myself wondering how that teenage girl could possibly have been expected to plan what she wanted to do with the rest of her life when she hadn’t yet grown into herself.

dr seussNow, 30 years later, that former teenage girl is fielding questions about what her son wants to do with the rest of his life, and I’m having a tough time believing that he can possibly know.

Maybe I’m a cynic. After all, I’m just as astonished by people who stay in the same career, much the less the same job, for their entire life as I am by people who are still married to their high school sweetheart.

In my world, that just doesn’t happen.

In my world, teenagers are just tall children who are exploring the world and discovering new interests and passions every day. They are young souls who are still learning that life isn’t about one decision that will lead them down the right path but about a series of decisions that will take them on an adventure.  And the are unique individuals who still need to determine how to use their gifts.

But I realize that’s in my world.

In the real world, teenagers are encouraged to identify their interests, decide on a college major and purse a career path by the time they are 21.

Maybe, if I didn’t have a son who was only a baby last week and is turning 16 next week, I might buy into that world.

But in reality, my son who is still trying to figure out who he is, and I’m pretty sure that the only way he can do that is through experiences – both good and bad. My job as a parent is to encourage him so he pursue opportunities that will allow him the time and the freedom to learn about himself.  And I hope he encounters some life-changing adventures along the way.places-ypu-will-go-quote

I also like to think that the teenager I used to be hopes for the same thing.

According to her journal, she does.

 

The Wrong Question

Wednesday, January 29, 2014
No Gravatar

When I was six, I got my first glimpse at how misguided and even harmful some adults can be.

I already thought my teacher was mean (a belief I still hold today), but I never realized  that she didn’t believe in encouraging her students to develop their own dreams and aspirations.

I figured that out the day Mrs. Gladwill handed each student in her first grade class a large piece of paper with space to draw a picture at the top with lines underneath. She instructed us to draw a picture and write a couple of sentences in answer to the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

I soon realized that Mrs. Gladwill cared as much about our answers as she would about a random stranger’s response to the question “how are you?” In other words, she didn’t really care at all.

But even as a first grader, I was a bit of an overachiever. I wanted to impress Mrs. Gladwill with my plans to be a trapeze artist. No matter that I was completely uncoordinated and afraid of taking risks, I was going for glamour.

My first grade brain never equated a career, or even a job, with skills, aptitudes and passions that could make the world a better place. All I understood was a job defined you for life. Why else would adults always be asking “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I wanted to be glamorous and admired. The problem was, I didn’t know how to spell trapeze. When I asked Mrs. Gladwill, her only advice was to look it up in the “book of jobs” she had provided us.

Needless to say, trapeze artist wasn’t listed.

So I had to ask Mrs. Gladwill again.

Instead of just spelling trapeze or suggesting I think about other possibilities, she told me I should be something “normal” like  a nurse.

I had no desire to be nurse, but I recognized the authority she had. So, I reluctantly looked up nurse in the career book and wrote about how I wanted to be one. Thus ended my aspirations of being a trapeze artist.

A few weeks ago, I was reminded of this incident when my son, a sophomore in high school, brought home his ACT Score report. One side provided his test scores and the recommendation he go to a four-year university. The back side was a complicated graph intended to help him make a career choice. I have a Master’s degree, and I didn’t understand how the “world of work” map could be helpful. And it, like Mrs. Gladwill and so many other adults, asked the wrong question: “what do you want to be?”pablo picasso

Every person already “is.” The question adults should be asking children, adolescents, young adults and even each other is “what are your gifts and how do you plan to share them with others?” That, according to  a quote attributed to Pablo Picasso, is the meaning of life.

If Mrs. Gladwill had asked me about my gifts in first grade, I probably would have told her “my imagination and telling stories.”  Neither lended themselves to being a trapeze artist nor a nurse. They didn’t really point to a career as a social worker either, but I would discover new gifts as I matured.

To  me, helping young people discover their gifts is entirely more useful than the “world of work” map my son was handed. And watching them unwrap and use those gifts is actually a gift for all of us.

The Day I Ate Dog Food

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
No Gravatar

dogfoodWhen I was four years old, my brother Sean and his friend Gusty convinced me to eat dog food.

The food didn’t look anything like the plain Purina Dog Chow my family fed our mutt, Charlie Brown.

Charlie Brown’s food was hard and brown and looked completely unappealing.

Moses, the yellow lab who belonged to our neighbors, ate something that looked far more interesting, It, like Charlie Brown’s food, came out of a bag. But in addition to dry pellets, there were softer chunks of some kind of strange, reddish substance. In my four-year old opinion, Moses was getting filet mignon while Charlie Brown was getting hamburger.

I must have expressed such thoughts to my brother, who immediately cooked up a scheme to get me to eat dog food. He shared it with Gusty, the human boy who lived with Moses.

I wish I could say they took forever to wear me down. I wish I could say they bribed me. I even wish I could say they threatened me. Those would all make a better story and would make me appear smarter than I apparently was.

I was at Gusty’s house playing with his sister Anni when he asked if we wanted a snack.

Anni said she wasn’t hungry, but I was always up for food.

“We’ve been eating Moses’ food,” Gusty said.

I must have looked skeptical, because my brother quickly added, “It’s actually really good. You should try some.”

That’s all it took. They brought me the dog bowl and told me to take a handful. I did.

That was by far the worst snack I have ever eaten, but I refused to let on. I don’t know why I pretended, but I did. As the boys and Anni stood watching  me, I ate. And as I crunched, I asked the boys if they were going to eat too. They said they were full.

It was only days later, when word leaked out to other children in the neighborhood, that I realized I’d been the butt of a cruel joke. The embarrassment grew  in me like weeds during the summer months. The only way I could get rid of the weeds was to start distrusting people.

I’ve had 43 years to get over the incident and learn to trust when I should and to distrust when appropriate. But looking back, I wonder about those small moments that change children forever and shift the way they view  the world. I wonder if trying to protect our children too much prevents them from learning tough lessons.

I’ll never know.

What I do know is that memories have a strange way of resurfacing in our lives.

Shortly after we were married, my husband and I adopted our first dog. There was no debate over his name; I simply made a decision.

We named the dog Gusty.

It seemed appropriate, and, for the record, our beloved Gusty lived 16 years. During that time, he ate pounds and pounds of dog food.

My Embarrassing Husband (and Truths about Marriage)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013
No Gravatar

giles and treeHere’s a truth about marriage that no one ever tells you: the most difficult part about marriage isn’t compromise. The most difficult part is learning to bite your tongue and not make fun of your spouse’s idiosyncrasies.

By the time you’ve been married as long as I have, the challenge becomes next to impossible. The only thing that keeps me sharing more  is the realization that I have even more idiosyncrasies than Giles does. Although, for the record, our  children both voted their dad as the more embarrassing of their two parents. Also for the record, that’s probably because their dad goes out of his way to embarrass them. I’m embarrassing without even trying.

But this past weekend, my husband wasn’t trying to embarrass anyone. He was just being over protective of our Christmas tree, which, in turn, was really embarrassing for the rest of us.

Every year, our family goes to a local Christmas tree farm to hunt down the perfect tree. And every year, we pick one that is too tall and requires a great deal of trimming down before it actually fits in our living room.

But not this year.

This year, all four of us went out of our way to find a short tree that would fit in our living room with no problem.

The selection didn’t take long, nor did cutting it down, hauling it back to be bailed and paying for it.

Getting it secured on top of the Jeep lasted so long that at least five other families went through the entire process while the kids and I waited and waited and waited. We waited so long that Giles became an embarrassment as he continued to pull ropes and check the ties on our smaller than normal tree.

The guys who drive the ATVs that haul the trees watched him. The other families watched him. Even the tree farm mutt, Molly, watched him.

But Giles continued to tie ropes, pull on them then tie more knots.

To be fair, I understand my husband’s concern.

Years ago, we were driving down a Virginia highway when the Christmas tree on top of the vehicle in front of us fell off, bounced across the highway and was left on the side of the road. The vehicle in front of us kept going at full speed as though nothing had happened.

Since no one was hurt in the incident, I was amused.

My husband, on the other hand, was apparently traumatized.

To this day, he lives in fear that our Christmas tree will fall off the roof of the Jeep.

“Going to get the family Christmas tree is a tradition,” I recently told a co-worker. “And the most important part  is waiting for Giles to secure the tree. That’s followed by his taking side roads because he’s afraid the tree will fall off if we go too fast on a major highway. We also have to stop at least twice to check if the tree is secure.”

This year, Giles broke with tradition. He only stopped once to check that  the tree was still secure. But then, it was a much smaller tree than we normally get and therefore only required one stop.

At some point, Giles must have realized how ridiculous he was being, but that was only after he was absolutely convinced that the tree was secure enough for transport. He looked at me and said, “You know, this tree is small enough we probably could have put it in the back of the Jeep and let the kids deal with some branches in their face.”

I agreed, but I also knew that putting the tree on top of the Jeep is as important to Giles as putting the star on top of the tree is for my daughter.

Sometimes, you just have to carry on the tradition.

Which leads me to another truth about marriage that no one ever tells you: the best memories aren’t the romantic ones. The best memories are the ones that highlight our idiosyncrasies, because those are the ones that make each family unique. And those are also the ones that bond us together as a true family.

Trick or treat, smell my feet

Monday, October 14, 2013
No Gravatar
Halloween 2008

With my bee and lamb, when times were easier.

Some time ago, students didn’t leave their sheltering elementary schools for the exploration of junior high until seventh grade. Kids were usually 12 years of age by September, learning combinations to lockers and lugging rented instruments to last period band class.  I remember those liberating days at Horace Mann in Kanawha City — a school that looked like a college campus and felt like a new world.

But while I was off being a grown up, I missed the decision to move sixth graders to a scary place called middle school.  And now that I’m a parent of a daughter on the verge of changing schools, this graduation has wiped out everything I thought I knew about advanced childhood. Since she’s going to this scary place called middle school at age 11, I’m going to be forced to loosen my protective grip.  This frightens me.

I’ve spent the last few months of parenting telling Ava “NO” to cell phones, social networking, cosmetics and high heel shoes.  “No, you can’t have that/do that/wear that/say that,” I lecture.  “It’s too soon.”

Yet, what is age appropriate behavior for a tween? For instance…

  • Do middle school girls, age 11, still play with American Girl dolls?
  • Do they still visit the cartoon parks at Walt Disney World?
  • Do they continue to shop at Justice or Crazy 8 (if sizes go up to age 12)?
  • Do they still have to sit in the backseat of a car, or can they call shotgun?
  • Do they ride scooters or bikes? If so, where do they do this? At the park or in the street?

Because of these uncertainties, I’ve changed the wording of my standard question.  Instead of Don’t you think it’s a little early for that? — I find myself asking Don’t you think you’re getting a little old for that?

Meaning, do middle school kids go trick or treating on Halloween? If not, this will be Ava’s last parade around the block.

Aha.  All Hallows’ Eve.  This weekend, I got up before the sun to read the latest issue of Southern Living in peace and quiet. I found myself locked in Allison Glock’s family column.  This month, she writes about preserving modesty in the modern era of Halloween. The horror isn’t in the section of the store dedicated to Walking Dead garb.  The real scare comes in the form of “Twerkin’ Teddy”, “Bad Habit Nun” and “Skeleton Catsuit”.  Yes, these costumes are made in youth sizes.

I cherished Ava’s first Halloween.  She was a baby sunflower from the Anne Geddes collection.  The next year, she was Thumper the rabbit, then a bumblebee, and the following year, she was “JoJo” the circus clown.  When she turned four, she made a darling Tinkerbell, and when she went to kindergarten, she was a fancy cheetah. After that, she became a cupcake, then a Crayola crayon, and then a 1950′s girl. Last fall, she transformed into a WVU cheerleader.

Ava and I were on the same team for a decade.  This season, however, we’re rivals.

It all started when Ava asked if she could dress as a One Direction fan.  Do we even need to buy a costume for that? She presented a wrinkled catalog.

“This, ” Ava announced, pointing to the girl in the picture.  “I want to wear what she has on.”

I leaned down to get a closer look.  BRITISH INVASION?!

Bloody hell no!

The Union Jack dress hit the juvenile model well above the knee.  It was a sleeveless sheath made from the thinnest material the manufacturers could get away with. Shower curtains are constructed of heavier fabric.

“I need the shoes, too,” she stated.  GOGO BOOTS?!

In my wicked little mind, I heard the theme song from Austin Powers.  YEAH, BABY, YEAH!

“No, Ava, no…” I whined.  “Find something else.  Here!” I pointed to another picture.  “How about this cute outfit?”

Ava screamed.  “A WATERMELON FAIRY?”

It’s different! It’s unique!

“All right…then we’ll all dress up,” I suggested.  “Maryn can be Scooby Doo, I’ll dress up as Velma, Daddy can be Fred, and you can be Daphne.”

On second thought, Fred wore an ascot. Mike would choke me with it.

“British, huh?” I pondered.  “The Beatles! We’ll go as the Fab Four! Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band!” I squealed.  “But I get to be Paul.”

Ava was getting tired.

“Please, Mom,” she sighed.  “It’ll be fine.”

I slammed the catalog closed.  “Ok, but if you look even the slightest bit cheap, the costume will be returned.”

Ava shook hands on the terms of our agreement and waited by the mailbox at 4:00 p.m. for the next nine business days.  Unfortunately, the ensemble arrived.  She pulled the dress over her head and immediately reached for her knees.  It was…short. Mini-skirt short. Twiggy stood before me.

“No.  It’s too old for you.”

She protested.  “Please, Mom! Look! I’ll wear a tee-shirt under it.”

That was a slight improvement.

“And tights,” I added.  “With biking shorts on top of the tights.”

She flashed a smiled and pulled on the white boots with the stacked heel.

OH, BEHAVE!

“Can I keep them, Mom?” she begged.  I looked at Ava and then down at Maryn.  My youngest daughter was wearing a witch’s hat and dusting the floor with a broom missing 90% of its bristles.

“What do you think?” I asked Maryn.  She peered into her crystal ball.

“She’s gonna get blisters and then Daddy’s gonna hafta carry her home,” she warned.  What a wise ol’ witch.

“All right.  You can keep them,” I told Ava.  “But you will not wear those boots outside of Halloween.”

“Didn’t you wear these boots when you were a majorette?” Ava asked, marching in place.

I answered too quickly.  “Sure, I did.  But I was in….”

“Junior high?”

 

Unsettled

Monday, September 16, 2013
No Gravatar
ekm painting

Elizabeth K. Meece (1963)

Good friends of ours recently moved into a new home.  Mike, the girls and I took a housewarming gift to them last weekend, in exchange for a much anticipated tour of the place.  It’s situated on a quiet cul-de-sac lined with oak trees and manicured lawns.  There are sweeping views of acres of green grasses that glisten in morning light.  It’s perfect for them, and for a while, I had house envy.

Perhaps it’s because my kitchen is nowhere close to being finished. But my patience is.

I love my house.  I do.  Our daughters love it and use every square inch for dance and play. So do our two destructive, demonic dogs. It’s where we’re supposed to be, with or without countertops and food disposals. Yet the work never ends.  Fences have to be repaired or rebuilt, air conditioners need new relay switches. Furnace filters are no longer available for the temperamental unit that warms our house with the smell of burnt dust in the winter.  The list goes on and on.  Well, make that Mike’s List goes on and on…

Then, there’s my aunt’s house, which is now our house since she passed away.  Six months ago, Mike and I vowed that we would enjoy this little fixer-upper-summer-project.  We decided over artisan beer and pizza that we’d rip up carpets to expose hardwood floors, scrape wallpaper and paint the surfaces a nice beige-gray color from Pottery Barn.  We’d landscape the sidewalks with English boxwoods and cut back wild bushes to reveal pretty stonework on the foundation.

Yeah, right.  I haven’t lifted one finger, other than to wipe tears off my face because I can’t stand to be in my aunt’s house. It’s as if I’ve had some type of delayed reaction to her death that makes it nearly impossible to be around her things.  I walk into the living room, spot one of her many watercolors soaking up dirt on the walls, and I walk right back out. There’s something about parting with her belongings that makes me feel like I’m getting rid of her memory.  But I don’t need another china cabinet. I don’t need two more bedroom suites or another chest of drawers from the 1950s.  I don’t want to haggle over them in an estate sale, either.

I’m just unsettled.

Houses are a funny thing.  They’re a burden of bricks and mortar, but a solid presence that stands for something much more than an address.  Whenever I look over at my aunt’s house, I feel like she’s close by.  She’s still here, even though I know she’s gone there. 

So now this house has become a monument that makes me feel both safe and sad.  It also makes me feel sick when the home owners insurance and tax bills are stuffed in the mailbox on the same day.  It makes me feel greedy to hold on to a piece of property that would make a wonderful starter home for a young family, or a retirement home for an elderly couple (or single).  It feels wasteful to continue paying utility companies to keep the life on in the house.  It also feels like I’m spoiled for having a second home to rely on when my kitchen is in shambles or the cooling system freezes. It feels immature to have a garage full of toys and hobbies, a space Mike has come to call his frat house.

Yet this cottage isn’t full of fond memories. This is the place associated with her illness. It’s the place that served as a type of assisted living with two caregivers located directly next door. When I do peek into the TV room, I see a new, leather lift chair that carried her from a sitting to a standing position three or four times.  I see the indentations on the carpet where the wheels of a hospice bed were stationed. I hear the clicking, ticking sound of an anniversary clock, an eerie reminder that she bought the house two years ago this week.

And because of these things, I’ve decided to sell.

No, dear readers and neighbors, I’m not ready to show the house.  But I’m ready to part with it.  I’m ready to let go of the weight that’s holding me back.  I need to remember that my aunt was a real estate agent and she bought houses as investments and sold them for profits. These structures were places to hang her hat, not her heart. During the brief moments that I’m feeling more confident, I imagine her saying, “Sell it, honey. Get what you can and get out from under all this trouble!”  I can also hear her chanting, “Never fear! Auntie’s near!” She would sing this line into the telephone whenever I called to complain of losing my way.

But now, I need to find my way back across the sidewalk into my home, where my family lives and loves. I need to see her place for exactly what it is: a ranch-style house with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, situated on a large lot with access to leading schools and city conveniences.

It’s said that we can’t take any of this stuff with us when it’s our time to go, but I’m grateful that my artist auntie left more than a few paintings for me to hang on the walls of my TV room.  And when I glance at “The Old Homeplace,” I’ll have no fear.  Auntie’s near.

 

 

 

 

Tattered Flags

Wednesday, September 11, 2013
No Gravatar

Like many Americans, I can’t help but reflect on the events that shook our nation twelve years ago today, and like most adults, I remember exactly where I was and what I was thinking on September 11, 2001.tattered flag

My memories of the days that followed aren’t nearly as vivid, but I remember one thing very clearly: there were American flags everywhere.

They were flying on private homes. They adorned t-shirts and other articles of clothing. And they were fluttering on moving vehicles.

I found this fascinating. Not just because I’d never before seen American flags flying on automobiles as though they were paraphernalia for a sports team, but because the flags were so easily damaged, which seemed to defeat the purpose of flying them.

As a Girl Scout, I was taught all the rules about how to handle and treat a flag. As a young adult, I followed the national debate over the issue of defacing and even burning flags as a sign of protest.

And yet, in the days and months immediately following September 11, 2001, people were damaging their flags in the name of patriotism.

At the time, I wasn’t particularly upset by this phenomena; I simply found it interesting.

But now, twelve years later, the tattered flags represent something much greater to me: while America initially came together after 9 11, we’ve since been tearing apart – kind of like those flags waving on the cars.

I think that’s because some people equate patriotism with pride, pride with winning and winning with defeating an enemy.

There have been and always will be plenty of enemies to our country, we don’t need to be creating them. But some people seem intent on doing so by pointing fingers at immigrants, people with different religious beliefs, people with different political ideas, people who are poor, etc.

The list goes on and on.

Each time fingers point, I hear the American flag rip a bit more.

That’s because our flag represents a country that was founded by immigrants. A country that welcomed people who didn’t have the same religious beliefs as the establishment. A country that encouraged diverse ways of thinking. A country that has a rich tradition of helping those who are down on their luck. Yet, we are attacking our own ideals and history.

Rip.

Rip.

Rip.

On this twelfth  anniversary of September 11, I hope that people focus not only on all the lives that were lost on that horrible day but on how our subsequent actions illuminated the possibility of creating a brighter future for our children.

We recognized the power of coming together as a country to help each other.

We recognized how much we can accomplish when united rather than divided.

We recognized how we can use our diverse strengths to support each other rather than to tear each other down.

And we recognized what happens when we live can live up to ideals represented by our flag: a flag that may be a bit torn and ripped but still stands for a compassionate, caring and idealistic country.

At least that’s what I’m teaching my children.

I’m certainly hoping they have reason to believe me.