I was waiting for a sunrise. From the moment I entered the bedroom of our vacation rental and saw the east facing, lake-viewing balcony, I knew I would be waking up early one morning to capture a sunrise snapshot. But the best laid plans as the saying goes, did not take into account my catching the dreaded summer cold. And each morning when the lake loon cried out to the rising sun, my congested head stayed on my pillow.
Summer is the season we Midwesterners dream of through long icy winters and teasing glimpses of spring. Some even decline to enjoy our beautiful autumns by mourning summer’s end. There is so much to love about summer. For me, it’s the little moments of enjoyment. Sipping brewed ice tea I’ve blended. Watching kids on bikes with tennis rackets or baseball bats heading to the school yards. Murphy, my golden and I wear matching smiles on our morning walks. Smelling the grass and flowers, feeling the breeze as we survey the lake on our walks.
It has been a long time since I felt compelled to walk to the lake to catch the early morning show. A lot of summer memories had been made since I had. Making real lemonade with my daughter, encouraging sprinkler fun as a win/win to my son. Fun for him, watered grass for me. Watching the kids play tee/soft/base ball on summer evening. Enjoying it more than they probably ever did. Hot dogs on the grill. The delicious smell of a neighbor’s dinner grilling while on our evening walk. And yes, even the music of the ice cream truck driving around the neighborhood. (I must confess I told my oldest it was just a music truck, and would bring him in the house to avoid the dinner spoiling treats. Imagine my well acted surprise when he informed me, around age 4, that the music truck also sold ice cream! Remarkable! Who Knew? I know, evil mom.)
So on this week-long vacation, at the up north location where we had spent so many happy times with our kiddos I wanted to watch a sunrise. This vacation, sans children was relaxing, and lovely. But, each day reminded me of each time we had all been together, scratching bug bites, riding bikes, and eating ice-cream. So, on the last morning of the trip, when the loon’s call startled me from sleep I followed up on my plan. I tossed on a cardigan over my night-clothes, slipped on sandals, grabbed my phone and headed out. The short path from our back door to the to the small northern lake was rosy with early light. The sky held more clouds than ideal, but still presented itself well. I started snapping pictures hoping for the definitive shot. And then, well then, I turned the lens on myself, in all my sleepy-eyed, summer cold, madcap hair, glory and snapped. And then just sat. And watched. And listened. And experienced. And breathed in a less than perfect lakeside, summer sunrise.
Summer’s are never perfectly perfect. Too hot or too rainy, to cold or too busy too short or too boring. But they are some what divine. Because every year, they’re just what we need. I’m just say’n.
This is my peony summer. Or rather, it is the summer that I have given the fluffy flower its due. I admit that I’ve arrived late to the peony party. In the first home my husband and I owned there were peonies planted next to the back step. As the new foliage arrived that spring I was unimpressed. And when I saw all the back ants on the closed buds, yuck! I had no time for peonies and exported them to a welcoming and wiser neighbor. Several years later while driving on a sunny early summer morning I spotted a rural yard with a double row of tall graceful peonies nodding in the morning sun. I appreciated their waves but did not connect them to the ant carriers I had exiled. In the next and current home we live in, we also inherited peonies. They had earned my respect if not my warmest affection and I transplanted them from an out of sight corner to a place of prominence near the patio. But it is this summer that I’ve begun to really love these ladies.
I notice them on my morning walks in the park. The mounds of earth await the village workers bringing flats of annuals to plant. But the peonies have a permanent home in the small city park, and a head start on summer. I watch them as they grow taller. Likewise in my own yard the green stalks have returned. Which will burst forth in color first, mine or the parks? I watch for the ants. I now know those busy, tiny soldiers, are necessary for the flowers bloom. Where are the ants? Don’t they know they have work to do? The peonies that bloom first are in the flower section of the grocery store. I hold off buying them. I want my own. The park peonies bloom next. Come on, I encourage my own plant. Will it bloom soon? Will its timing between rain storms be wise enough to protect its’ blooms? Finally, they open, three big beautiful flowers. And it is summer.
I know what follows. The peony once opened can’t stop. Its many tiny petals reach and open further each day. Until finally they drop off the stem. Other flowers in my modest garden will need to be plucked, dead headed, as we say, or they will shrivel to brown and withered detritus. But the peony can not stop opening, until it can no longer hold on to itself. The peonies in the park, so heavy with their own beauty, lay down their weary blooms. My own, held up with wire baskets are also destined for the same end.
And then I notice all the places I have inadvertently planted peonies. On the pillows that cozy up my sofa: peonies. On the cover of the small notebook I carry; peonies. On my wedding china; peonies. And there, framed and hung in my dining room a water-color painted by a beloved cousin; peonies.
Recently a friend sent us a beautiful arrangement of her favorite blooms. You guessed it, peonies. As I watch their intense salmon blooms open and open more. Their unbelievable color morphs into a more traditional pink. They refuse to remain static, until they are white. Only then do they start to release their petals onto the table. I do not wipe up the scattered petals. Even they seem perfect in their faded glory, laying across the mahogany.
Peonies, summer, ephemeral delights both of these. Children laughing as they run through a sprinkler. Voices in conversation, in the dark of the patio the gentle clink of ice cubes in glasses of cold drinks, moments of summer.
Poet Mary Oliver wrote about peonies, “with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling..to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are nothing, forever.”
I’m just say’n, yes, I love the peonies, ants and all.
I was watching my favorite TV comedy, The Middle. I love its portrayal of a mid western, middle class family. The shows mother, Frankie Heck, is beleaguered, harried, and always fully cognizant of her failings and shortcomings. In this episode she was feeling nostalgic and wanted to celebrate an important moment in the life of her family. Introspection on Hallmark moments is not something she does a lot of. But she wanted to take note and more importantly she wanted her family to recognize the moment with her. And in true television sitcom form laughs and zaniness ensued.
That’s what happens with plans to create moments in real life too. The moment that we think we need to spotlight may not pan out just as we had planned. But sometimes the momentous moment sneaks up on us. Yes, moments are funny things. We all have memorable ones. The first time you hold your very own baby. The first kiss at the wedding, the first dance. And there are the other kind as well. The heart stopping heart breaking kind. The phone call about , cancer, the divorce or and accident. They are just as unforgettable. Touching our hearts and grabbing our breath.
This past summer we were awash in weddings. Five brides had invited my husband and I to share their day. Weddings are quintessential planned beautiful moment productions. The walk down the aisle, the music, the dress all selected to provide memorable moments. And each wedding we attended was lovely and meaningful. But for me there was one moment. It was unplanned, and unscripted as all the best moments are.
My god daughter, was the bride. She and her family had planned a small intimate wedding. No big church with hundreds of guests. Rather 70 or so friends and family in the dining room of an Elks lodge. Flowers, a cake, dinner and homemade jam as party favors, defined the day.
The bride’s mother was quite busy before the ceremony. Doing all those things that mothers do. Running hither and thither pining boutonnieres on her husband and son, checking with the catering staff. Now I admit I love to catch a peak of the bride before a wedding if I can, who doesn’t ? So I knocked on the door of the designated bridal dressing room.
“Oh thank goodness!” she said. So I went in.
And there all alone, the beautiful bride was obviously going to be unable to hook up the intricate back of her gown. And so I set to work.
I knew. It was a moment. The moment I would remember and treasure long after this wedding season had passed. I had been the one to hold her at her christening, included in her milestone events, birthdays and graduations. At six years old she had announced to her mother I was a great cook based upon my peanut and butter and jelly sandwiches. And now here we were in the middle of a moment. I felt equal parts gratified, useful and honored. Feeling the the moment in every hook and eye I fastened, connected as each lacing I tightened on her gown.
That week the bride’s sister and I had co-hosted a dinner for her. It was lovely, just as we had planned. During the wedding I had selected and read a reading, my husband officiated, he was great.
But the moment I will treasure took place in the ladies room of an Elks Lodge that Friday night.
Frankie the TV mom, wanted to make a toast at a family dinner to commemorate a transition the rest of the family was oblivious to. She had to settle for clinking and olive jar in front of her open refrigerator.
We try so hard to create those memorable moments but often the most wonderful moments happen with out a plan or even a wedding planner in sight. It’s a wedding, mothers cry, father’s beam, enjoying the moment.
Summer wedding season is over now. I’m walking through crunchy leaves and crisp fall air.
“I’m having a moment. ” It’s a cliche and sometimes even a punchline. But if we are lucky those moments leave trails in our hearts and memories as we walk through our days and nights.
I’m just say’n.
I’m embarrassed to say that this will be my first post for Father’s Day. Let’s face it, dads sometimes get the short end of the stick when it comes to their special day. So as I was walking on this beautiful summer day I was thinking of my Dad. I often think of him. But this time I was pondering which story to share that would illustrate the relationship we had.
My Dad was talented and smart. He could repair almost anything we had. His natural gift was probably enhanced by his military training as first a pilot and then, when an old baseball injury scrubbed him from the air corp, his training as a radioman and later his work on un- manned drones. Before he even joined the Army he was trained by his father and uncles as a working carpenter. So if he couldn’t build it he could probably still fix it. Cars, big appliances , small appliances. The Stereo cabinet (very 1960’s) my bedroom dresser, and a big beautiful wooden playhouse came out of his work shop. But it was something much smaller that he made for me that still makes me smile.
When I was seven my second grade teacher decided that our class should learn and present a play as puppet theatre. We read the play in class, The Princess and the Pea, then we would be assigned parts and perform the play for the other grades all from the puppet theatre in our class room.
I don’t remember how I felt about this project, only that I was home sick the day students were assigned their roles. When I returned to school I learned that all the parts had all been taken. The Princess, the King and Queen the assorted folk of the village everyone had their part. There was just one role open–the Prince. I remember not being too happy with having to take a boy’s role. But this was the ’60s, the teacher told me I was going to learn the part of the Prince and that was how it would be. Second grade puppet theatre had two important tasks first, for some still unknown reason we would have to memorize our parts. (Remember this was a puppet show we were behind a puppet stage no one could see us.) Second, and this was what really scared me. We had to provide our own puppet.
Now if my Dad was “Mr. I can make it or fix it” my mother, although a classic “homemaker” of the era, was not as we say now a days, “crafty.” Our Halloween costumes were store bought, our clothes form the Sears catalog. And that was fine. But, how was a royal prince puppet to be created? I brought this dilemma home to mom and I must say she looked shaken by the thought of providing my thespian debut so important a tool.
We went to the only how to manual that wasn’t about cars, mechanicals and woodworking in the house. My trusty Brownie Girl Scout hand book. Eureka !
There were puppet making directions in the book! Great. It involved large spoon and a napkin. You drew a face on the back of the spoon, and worked the napkin around the handle forming a cover for the puppeteer’s hand. Believe me what you imagine that looked like would be better than it actually turned out.
And so I set out for school with my spoon puppet in by book bag. My teacher was less than impressed. I don’t remember how she explained to me, or how her note to my mother was worded. But we were both informed that a spoon-napkin puppet would not meet the teacher’s theatrical standards. Back to square one.
I think that afternoon was spent with neither one of us wanting to talk about the dilemma. I know I felt totally clueless about puppet design and creation. She probably did too. By the time my dad come home for dinner the house was pretty quiet. I also don’t remember who told my dad about the puppet problem but soon after dinner he got to work.
And a couple of hours and old white pillowcase later a Prince was born. No spoon and smiley face here. This prince sported an ermine-like black and white jacket and a jaunty face drawn on a puppet body that fit my seen year old hand perfectly. My mother’s old black Singer sewing machine whirled and stitched while my father fed the fabric under the needle. The first and only time I ever saw him at the machine.
You know how the story ends. Everyone loved my puppet. And as we performed for the other classes I rendered what I remember as an inspired prince of a performance. The kids laughed at the Prince’s antics. He gestured with his little puppet hands, scratched his little puppet head as he performed his princely lines. I was a smash hit as a puppeteer. The teacher congratulated me as the Prince took his bow.
In a drawer of my dresser I keep the beautiful gavel with inlaid wood my father made me when I was elected presiding officer of my local Rainbow assembly. In my living room there stands a beautiful grandfather clock he built and passed on to me. But on this Father’s day I’m thinking about a puppet prince and the man who designed, sewed it and sent me off to school to be the best prince any little girl could hope to be. Sitting over the old Singer at the kitchen table stitching a memory that will never fade. I’m just say’n.
The first time I noticed it my daughter was 16 and going to the prom. In the photos we had taken of the prom group, the girls all had one thing in common. It wasn’t a hair style or a dress length, high heels or flats. No. It was their arms.
Almost, without exception all of those beautiful high school girls were posing with what I would describe as “teapot arms.” Do you remember the old nursery rhyme we sang as children?
“I’m a little teapot short and stout. Here is my handle, here is my spout.”
As we sang about the teapot’s handle we put our hand on our hip to make a right angle.
So why, in all their prom finery were the girls doing that with their arms?
It’s not a pose limited to my small Midwestern town. When I saw photos of other girls in other towns I saw them posing in the same way. And lately I have noticed women of a certain age (namely mine) posing in the same way as well. Arm bent, leaning out, what was going on? I asked my self when did smile for the camera also involve bending your arm in an artificial pose?
Finally I was so curious by this phenomenon that I asked my daughter. “What gives with the teapot arms?” “This is not a pose that happens naturally.” So she told me. “It makes you look skinny.”
What! All those beautiful, fresh faced young women, many of them athletes, concerned enough about the size of their silhouette to strike a pose looking so forced? I was one part stunned and two parts disappointed. All the work we had done as mothers trying to instill confidence, to negate body shaming and we had daughters with teapot arms?
Being a parent is fraught with guilt and the fear that we are making mistakes every day.
“Was I home enough ?”
“Did I listen enough?”
“Was I too strict?”
“Was I too permissive?”
“Did I teach her that good health was more important than any idealized thin size?”
We hold ourselves to standards that move continually farther away from us.
Happily our children grow up and for the most part succeed. They may do so not on our preferred schedule, but they do fine. They learn to take care of themselves, They work, they contribute. They say please and thank you. They volunteer in their communities. We see all this and hope we did right by the motherhood thing.
My daughter did look lovely for the prom. She finished high school. Went on to graduate from college and yes find a job. That Christmas we were all together posing for the usual family photos, the two of us in front of the tree. “Smile for the picture,” someone said.
And then she did something with her arms.
She put them around me. And we both smiled for the the picture. All of my teapot arm concerns fell away in her embrace. Finally, a pose I could love.
I’m just say’n.
I recently changed the cover on my ironing board. Well, actually I recovered the old cover. The cover my mother put on it when she gave it to me 36 years ago. On my birthday, ten days before I was to be married. I puzzled then over the gift. Somehow not the sentimental type of gift I imagined I would be given just prior to such a life changing event. But I kept my questions to myself, accepted the gift (graciously I hope) and got married. And I even did the ironing. But recovering that old ironing board recently propelled me back to my mother’s kitchen and that day in August. Whoosh, like a time machine.
Gifts can do that to us. And at this time of the year when gifts are such an integral part of the celebration of Christmas, we can be riding a roller coaster of memory and emotion daily. That may be one of the reasons we all hit the mall, and the internet. Not so much trying to buy love or win the best gift contest. But rather, trying to connect with our family and friends and earn that place in their memory. A special place where it is not the gift that is valued but the relationship, yes the thought.
Have you ever given someone the perfect gift? The one you know hits all the right notes in your relationship? Have you ever been present when someone else gives the gift and witnessed the look on someones face that says “This is just it!”
Maybe. Or maybe like me unwrapping that ironing board, and the cover my mother put on it you received the perfect gift and didn’t realize it for quite a while.
I want to be clear. I am not a regular iron-er of clothing. I love permanent press as much as the next person. I iron only sporadically. But I don’t remember any other birthday gift I received that year. And I never iron without remembering my mother. I can see her ironing in the living room, there’s a game show on the television. She works her way through my father’s dress shirts, the sheets, my own cotton dresses. I see her, hear her voice (correcting my ironing technique sometimes) every time I haul that a board out of the closet.
Last night as I walked by my Christmas tree one of the ornaments caught my eye. It was backwards. A simple muslin square with a holly wreathe and a red bow. The design did not show so I re -hung it. Whoosh. Time travel. The ornament in question was given to me by my college roommate. She gave it to me the year my husband and I bought our first home. She had come to our Christmas party and she brought a set of or muslin ornaments to give me. I remember I asked her if she had made them. “No, I just liked them. Saw them on vacation, and picked them up.” That was 30 years ago. This year no one had any idea she would not make it to Christmas. She passed away in early spring. We had lived together our sophomore year. She stood up with me at my wedding. She had given me other gifts I’m sure. But it was that Christmas tree decoration that propelled me to that Christmas long ago. To her smile. Even to her voice.
I am sure her sisters, brothers husband and son, will have similar experiences this Christmas. I hope they’re comforted by the memories of their own time travel. I hope her other friends, of which she had so many, will also be reminded . Of her voice. of her smile. Of her ability to sing the entire score of “The Sound of Music.”
That’s one of the gifts of the season. The connection we feel to those so special to us in our lives. Our parents, a dear friend, gone but not ever forgotten.
That’s what the unexpected perfect gift can bring us. Someone once said, Christmas is a time machine. The rushing, the noise, the wrapping is just background noise. Listen carefully. It’s a carol worth enjoying. I’m just say’n.