Farewell Old Friend

I said good bye to and old friend today. A relationship only five years shorter than my 32 year marriage. An association that outlasted two dogs,six cars and numerous soccer socks and beach towels. Today my new washing machine was delivered and my old one removed by two young men who seemed unaware of the history they hauled out of my basement and onto a waiting truck. Am I alone in feeling slightly sentimental over an old appliance? We bought the washer at the same time we purchased all four of our major appliances, for our “new” old home. Our first house. They all made the move (with the first golden retriever) to the next house. But, alas they all were replaced and updated by newer shiner models. Happily not all at the same time as was my fear. But that washer kept on washing. Four years ago I thought it was done for, poor timing, as my eldest was on his way to Spain to study abroad in a few days, and a college tuition bill was due. But a gifted repairman worked his magic and the fix we hoped would last about a year stuck. Even now it wasn’t broken, it just wasn’t efficient enough, too many trips up and down the basement stairs coaxing it to the next cycle finally sealed its fate. And so I gave it a gentle pat and bid it adieu. Now those who know me know that I sentimentally attach to things. The Wedgewood dishes from my college dorm residents,a bridal gift to their R.A. The watercolor painting my cousin painted of her grandson and my daughter. The Spode tea set a beloved friend found in an antique shop and sent for my birthday. These are treasures to me. Not too hard to understand. But just as valuable to me is my ironing board. On my 22nd birthday ten days before my wedding my mother gave me what I thought was the lamest gift ever, a new iron and ironing board. I smiled to myself at this most practical and least sentimental gift a mother could give a daughter days before she left her home to marry her college sweetheart. It was a total representation of her practical nature and outlook. And, these many years later I think of her every time I pull it out of the closet and press a shirt. It still sports the pad she purchased and fit over the old white sheet she covered it with, to provide what she thought was the necessary padding for optimal ironing. Yes, just like the pink handled pie server the ironing board and the washing machine were the not so glamorous tools of some of the least romantic and sentimental aspects of family life. Our family life. Not as pretty as a picture or graceful as fine china, but used and reused and touched and explained and instructed about to each of us in this family. Sometimes memories are not made of parties, graduations or holidays. Much of our lives are connected by daily tasks and chores. A son ironing a shirt shocking and impressing his mother, a daughter finishing and folding the laundry. The times that mark the passage of time as household appliances age and wear out. So farewell old friend. I still remember how excited I was the day you arrived. I promised my self and my husband that I would never complain about the laundry now that I was released from the pay laundromat.

I’m pretty sure I kept that promise. I’m just say’n.

Lessons and Carols

It’s back….with all of it’s beauty, excitement and memories. Christmas is back. It’s another year older but are we any wiser? The question your friend in the blogosphere has is this, what have you learned from Christmas?
Over the years I have enjoyed the return of the Christmas season to the extent that it often highlighted the lessons the year had delivered to me. Sometimes those lessons were happy. In other years, the “classwork” of Christmas was too difficult. When you have experienced a loss of a loved one Christmas holds up the loss to you in the cruelest of ways. When everyone else is having all that Christmas fun you are reminded in a thousand ways, small and large how much you miss by missing a loved one. When everyone else is singing you are sighing and wishing for one more day, one more moment with the friend, parent,or child no longer present.
But, there are other lessons too,poignant if not painful.There was the Christmas I learned how to let my children gift me with needed time. They were young and I was busy trying to get all the things I felt I must do for Christmas done. That Sunday of Advent I had much to do to get ready when a request was made I could not turn down. An older member of my church congregation,unable to attend services had requested communion be brought to her. As a deacon I could do this. But my “to do” list beckoned. On the other hand how could I not? So, I took the children home (my husband was out of town for work) and drove to the seniors apartment. I remember how grateful she was, and how she urged me to stay for a cup of tea, so happy for “Christmas company” as she called me. I left feeling I had done the right thing, but anxious over the task in front of me with 3 hours now gone by. A big stack of gifts for cousins, nieces,nephews, aunts and uncles waited for me to wrap. But, when I arrived home I was met by my two excited elves. They had wrapped all the gifts themselves while I did “church work” as they called it. Now like all “Christmas control” moms, those gifts were not wrapped as I would have wrapped them. Instead they were done with love and shining eyes for me. What a gift!I don’t remember any other present I received that year. But I remember how proud “big brother” was and how excited his little sister was to help mommy that day. What a lesson.
Christmas music like Christmas memories flood our days and nights the closer we come to Christmas Eve. And I am addicted to the sounds of Christmas even more than a child to peppermint. The more I think about it the best telling of the Christmas story is probably done through music. Whether it is the rich sounds of a wonderful practiced choir or in the unpolished carols sung by children. The essence of Christmas is best displayed by voices raised in song. Think of the simple rendition of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus and the gang from “Peanuts” breaking into “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and you will understand what I mean.
If you are like me you probably have many memories of Christmas’ past. The “live Nativity” I performed in as a 13 year old, an angel on top of the stable. One of my best friends was “Mary”, we still laugh when we remember how the real barnyard animals brought in to add realism provided more “realism” than planned, on the shepherds sandals.
It’s memories like these that connect our Christmas’ to each other one year to the next. When the children were little I waited to decorate until they were sleeping to “protect” the delicate bells and ornaments. When they were older I assigned them a task and they whirled through in a frenzy of excitement fueled by Christmas cookies. And I stood back trying not to “adjust” their work. Later, they were too busy to help with the tree,or lights beyond a cursory attempt to humor me fueled now by a modicum of guilt.And this year I missed them both, he in his own apartment in another city, she away at college. Once again I decorate mostly alone waiting for their return to enjoy and share the holiday. When they were small I waited for them to to wake up from nap,come downstairs and see the decorations. Now the house and I wait for their return to give their stamp of approval.
Christmas continues to be a gift and a lesson to me. Remember a loved one, let others wrap and sing, treasure the days, they fly by in a moment. And when I look at the Christmas bells on my mantle, I recall the little hands selecting one each night to ring before bedtime. A lesson and a carol with each sweet chime.

No Words

That morning was beautifully sunny, cool and crisp. I had just walked the dog and was going to throw in a load of laundry. Typical, mundane, like countless other mornings in my little Wisconsin village. The kids were at school and they were young enough that I was glad that school had begun again and that I had until 3:15 until they were home.

We had a patio poured the day before as well as a walk-way to our front door. They were both edged in stamped concrete simulating red brick. And that was the problem. The contractor had not,as he had promised, “cleaned up.” And from my driveway’s foot and gutter and to the four houses past mine to the corner, there was reddish sludge. What a mess. A surefire way to annoy my neighbors. I realized I would have to clean it up. First I took the dog back into the house. Before I went back out I turned on the TV. An initial report announced a fire at the World Trade Center. I watched for a minute, and then sat down at the kitchen table to watch the horrible story unfold.

We all know how the “fire” turned into a much more hideously terrible story. And you like me probably recall the typical mundane things you were doing as history unfolded in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania that day. Then like you I called people. First I reached my husband, his office a 10 story Wisconsin style “high rise” was later evacuated as a precaution. My girlfriend in Colorado called. We were both doing laundry as we talked on the phone. Trying to avoid watching more of the carnage on our TVs.

Since the advent of mass communication, first radio then TV, now the Internet, people have ‘touchstone’ moments. For my parents it was the attack on Pearl Harbor. For those my age the day JFK was shot. For people no younger than my now 18 year old daughter,it was September 11. She was in 3rd grade, my son a freshman in high school. For a long time after ward they both called those events “the tragedies.”

I remember other things that happened in the hours and days that followed. That very afternoon I pulled myself away from the TV, and went to the grocery store. I needed groceries but could only bring myself to buy milk. As I left the check out I saw a neighbor come in. She looked at me with consolation in her eyes walked towards me, and we just hugged each other wordlessly. At our church the following Sunday there was no sermon. Just the reading of Scripture. I forget which ones. But I remember as church ended and we filed quietly out, the minister waiting at the door as usual, when one congregant,a young mom like me, broke down into tears in his arms. No words spoken.

There have been many changes in our lives since then. But, taking our shoes off at the airport, dims in comparison to the loss of loved ones by families on that day, or in the days that followed our country’s military response to the attacks.

I remember all of this. But mostly I remember a great heavy feeling of sadness shock and grief. And, unable to watch anymore that day, I went out to my yard, picked up the hose and started to clean my red stained gutter. The water worked the heavy sludge down the street. But I didn’t have enough water pressure to get it all the way to the drain at the corner. One of my neighbors saw me and came out and stood with me, his wife followed a few minutes later. “The second tower just collapsed,” she said. He walked back to his house and picked up his garden hose and turned it on, joining me at the curb. Soon as I looked down the street I saw my other neighbors doing like wise. Silently- all of us, trying to wash away the ugly red waste from our sight.

Turn, Turn, Turn

The college freshmen walked toward the student union to check in. She was excitedly focused on what was in front of her when she heard her name called from behind. It was her mother. “I didn’t get to hug you good bye.” The freshmen was startled, she gave the obligatory hug and continued on her way. The mother returned to her car at the curb, and she and the father drove away.

This morning on my walk my neighborhood was full of moms and dads taking first day of school pictures of kids. The children smiled at the camera, depending on their age, with big excited grins or embarrassed “can we get this over with” grimaces. There were no pictures at my house for the first time in 20 years.

This morning I ran into my daughter’s ,now retired, kindergarten teacher in Starbucks. She asked if I noticed all the little ones lining up for school. I told her I had dropped my little one off at college yesterday. She clutched her heart.”How was that for you?” “It feels worse today.” I replied. She shared a memory of my daughter from all those years ago. I remembered how much my daughter loved K4 and this teacher. I remembered how I had tried to talk her pre-school teachers out of advancing her to kindergarten. “She could stay, but she’d have to co-teach the class,” they laughingly told me.

I know that this next phase of our lives will be just great. But right now I’m feeling nostalgic for hands to hold and parent teacher meetings. I know I’m not alone. If you’ve ever dropped your oldest off at college you understand. If you’ve dropped your youngest off at college you feel my pain.

I know what I need to focus on are the blessings this day represents. Two healthy, mostly happy kids who worked hard to get themselves into college. Two young adults starting the next phase of their young lives. The boy I dropped off at the university 6 years ago is on his own now, a college graduate. He’s a different person than the boy who asked us as we prepared our exit, “You mean you’re leaving now?” His little sister and I had made his dorm bed and hung his clothes. His father laughingly said “Yes, we won’t be staying at college with you.”

I can only wonder at the growth and changes that the little sister will experience during her college years.

I’m not the first parent to realize that everything we do as parents to love and nurture our children is to get them ready for this day. My husband was only half joking when he shared his thoughts to a young neighbor mom. Her little darling in the pixie bob with the almond eyes, a beautiful gift from China. She showed us her little pink glittery shoes and and told us how kindergarten started next week. “You ‘ll love them so much, buy them hundreds of shoes, and then they’ll leave you.” he predicted. And in the end that’s what happens.

But it’s a wonderful journey. One I’m sure we would never want to miss. And It’s timeless. It will be repeated next fall with others, by  this year’s high school seniors. And 18 years from now by the moms pushing the buggies down my street today. You see the clueless freshmen who forgot to hug her mother was me. I never dreamed I’d be in my mother’s  shoes one day. Sad, happy and grabbing one more hug from a girl focused on what was in front of her. I’m just say’n.

Perspectives and Promises

A Summer blog delayed by writer’s block;here-to-with something I’ve never experienced. Whether I’ve been asked to speak extemporaneously or write and article on anything from “Apples” (love’em if they’re Gala) to “Z”. I’ve never been at a loss for words. But since my last entry I have been silent in the blog-o-sphere, and I think I know why.

Early this summer an old and treasured friend suffered a horrible loss. And her pain has been front and center on my mind. Truly, writing on any number of subjects seemed trite and meaningless. (And those who know me know how I love trite.)

I would like to write about something my friend said to me and a group of friends who had gathered to share support. “I have no patience anymore for people’s complaints.” She was talking about an element of her job and she struck a chord. I mentioned her comment to another friend, who likewise has had her share of loss and challenge and she immediately related to the sentiment. She said that at a similar time in her life a neighbor fretted over the “wrong color of some new carpet, and I thought ‘I don’t want to hear it.What are you complaining about?'”

I know we all get tired or overwhelmed. Sometimes things just pile up on us in our days. Just recently at work, I spilled a 9 by 13 dish of quiche that a roomful of breakfast seeking ladies were waiting for. It was a mess.And while I allowed myself a level of aggravation and and an exclamation of, “Holy Cheese and crackers!!” I refused to tell the story as a complaint. Spilled quiche, really? So not worth complaining about.

It seems like daily I hear in the media stories of work/road/waiting-in- line rage. And the stuff that goes on at youth sporting events is really scary. If the worst thing in your life is how long it takes for your morning coffee to be placed in front you or the blown call at the 7th grade soccer game you, my friend, are living a charmed existence.

No, I want to focus on the important stuff. The good stuff. Friends and family who pull for you. Show up when you need them. Pastors who give a sermon with one or more insights you may not have thought of. Kids who say “thank you.” Spouses who say “I love you” or fill your gas tank. People at work who tell you they appreciate your hard work, or creativity. Neighbors who keep an eye on your kids or house or pet when you’re not around. Doctors and nurses who show up every day working to keep other people healthy. The list goes on.

Now, I know I won’t stop thinking or commenting on things that I wish were different. Life isn’t perfect. I’ll be at a Major League ball park this week. It will be hot. Someone will be wearing something (or not wearing something )that will seem to me an insult to fashion, good manners and health. I’ll be on a plane or train one day and there won’t be enough leg room. But while I’ll notice these things , I’m going to try real hard not to complain about them. Joke maybe, or roll my eyes, yes. But complain about them no. Life is short. I have too many blessings. I’d rather be a glass is half-full kind of person, and thankful for the glass.

This summer, some sad things happened to some good people I know. You probably know some sad stories too. Let’s leave any complaining to those folks, they’ve earned it. But let’s try to be one of the reasons they can navigate thru it. With a hug, a joke, a casserole, or a prayer. I’m just say’n.

To Cry or Not To Cry

“Mom, you’re not going to cry at graduation are you?” My daughter asked me. Translation: please don’t cry, or set your hair on fire, or any other parental hi jinks. I’m not going to cry I assured her. I tend not to cry at graduations, I view them as true commencements, beginnings. So I planned to stay dry eyed.

She probably didn’t believe me, because I am a cryer.  Big time. I cry at sad movies. When Kevin Costner says to his dad in  the movie “Field of Dreams”  “Wanna have a catch?” I tear up.  My kids always look at me in darkened theaters while I sniff at “My Dog Skip” or any other “family” movie.

I cry while watching TV.  Hallmark movies really do me in.  And the commercials are worse. But I said  I would not cry Sunday at Graduation when my youngest marched in while they played Pomp and Circumstance.

Forsythia and Offspring

Forsythia and Offspring

Sitting at my desk in my bedroom I have a marvelous view. Well, beyond the scraps of paper, lists, old photos, and the detritus of empty boxes and what-not no one knows where to put so it ends up on Mom’s desk. But over the top of my laptop I see into our back yard. And there in full Spring glory– forsythia. Actually, two forsythia bushes grow along the back property line along the fence of my suburban yard. I love the lilac tree, and the daffodils are dandy. But the forsythia are spectacular.

Now, before you mistake me for an avid or even proficient gardener, know that all this blooming excess was here when we bought the house over twenty years ago. And though I have enjoyed the blooming times I have done little to nothing to augment the flora and fauna on Bayridge. Although I greatly appreciate beautiful landscaping and gardens my efforts through the years have dwindled down to container gardening. Now I know that packing a few pots full of petunias and pansies is to gardening what taking a stroll with the dog is to training for a marathon. No comparison. And though I may even read another blogger’s post on gardening (Trowel Tart, quite amusing and informational) I never actually garden per se.

But, I do enjoy those forsythia.

But before you envision two beautifully sculpted shrubs let me confess that they are both gone wild. By that I mean that our attempts at pruning and shaping have basically been failures. I grew up with a “handy, mechanical type” father and a mother who spent any free time reading. No gardeners there. My husband descended from a long line of city dwellers without the prerequisite land to grow things. And so, when we first became proud owners of “real” estate we thought we’d become gardeners but alas,our interest lasted only a summer or two and what we didn’t turn to green grass we paved into a patio. But we kept the forsythia.

We have almost every year attempted to “shape” the bushes. I did learn the basics of shrub care. Prune the old wood, trim after flowering and before the leaves turn. (Although I did like the recommendation of one old master gardener that the best time to prune was “when the knife was sharp.”) But mostly we just never got it right. Some years we would over prune and have no blossoms the next year. Other years we would neglect the bushes and the bloom would be spotty.

So, today, Mother’s Day, I was enjoying the blossoms and thinking how out of control the bushes had grown this year. Wishing I had done a better job of shrub maintenance and care. But I came to the task an amateur. I took no courses, followed no probationary track, I just became a forsythia guardian. I tried my best. I fed and watered them. I tried to force my will on their growth patterns. But despite my efforts they grew into their own space. One too tall to be called a shrub, towers over the fence. Long yellow arms reaching for the blue sky. The other neither square or round like the ones I see in other yards and in books. Rather, an unusual oval of buttery blossoms bending toward the lawn.

And I think I know why I love them.It’s been and adventure trying to shape them, not unlike the one I’ve enjoyed as a mother. You see I came to the task an amateur. I took no classes, I followed no probationary track. I just fed, watered and loved them. I tried to shape my children in all the usual ways. Say “please and thank you.” Do your homework. Be honest. Be kind. And now in the sunshine of a Sunday, one just about to step into college the other already out, they are magnificent. Their father and I did the best we could, but really the Sun and the sky, the rain and the soil was already here. They may not be perfect specimens, but they are themselves. Reaching for the sky. Full of a bounty of color and verve. We all do the best we can as mother’s and fathers. We want them healthy and happy.But even as we try to shape them into successful adults we have so little control into the shape they will finally embrace. It is well enough to see them strong and tall becoming their own true definition of themselves.

The forsythia is beautiful this year. I’m glad I can appreciate how well it’s doing with and in spite of my best efforts. I’m just say’n