Gratitude And The Children’s Hour

I’ve been having a secret contest with myself, waiting to see how long it will take me to write a blog post that is NOT about being a grandmother. Today we pause the contest for a short post that while, yes, does have some grandmothering in it, also is about my daughter. So I’m sort of breaking my rules, but since I told my daughter I wanted to write it, and she is expecting it, here it is.

Before she became a mother two years ago, my daughter Cameron  blogged   from her home in Pasadena almost daily at http://krugthethinker.com. She was kind enough to have her Pacific time zone posts published early enough so that I could read them while I drank my coffee in Central time zone. By 8:00 most mornings I could know what my daughter had recently sewn, cooked, read, or photographed.Reading her blog was a part of my morning routine, along with journaling, meditating, wasting time on Facebook and thinking only of myself.

Our grandson Micah was born in the middle of the night, so I did not learn of his birth until his parents face timed me the next morning.We had lots of phone calls and face times for the first three weeks until my husband and I were able to go out and meet our new angel. When we returned to Memphis, my daughter kept face timing me in the mornings. After all, who else could she call when her baby woke up at 5:00 A.M?

Before long, he wasn’t a teeny tiny anymore. He was smiling and talking to his mobile. I would talk to the baby while she went and made her own coffee. While she was out of the room I would whisper to my husband who was in the next room getting ready for work,”It’s Cameron again… Would you bring me some coffee?” Of course I loved to get to talk to her, especially since she was no longer writing five blog posts a week.

We went on like this for some time. I saw Micah  kicking at his toys in the activity gym. I made suggestions about his feeding. I listened to the story of how well he did or did not sleep the night before. This was all fine, but I was puzzled. WHY was she calling me every single day, even on the weekends? I hoped it was not because of a blog post I had written about how my only experience of grandmothers was that they were available to the grandchildren on a daily basis.

I can assure you that when I had small babies I was not concerned about their grandparents first thing in the morning. Rather, I was strictly concerned with my own survival. Would I be able to get out of my pajamas before my husband left the house? Would I be fortunate enough to wolf down a bowl of cereal before high pitched squeals pierced the air with the precision of a dentist’s drill? Or, luxury of all luxuries, could I actually take a shower?

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Somehow I didn’t have time to fool with my mother.

Oddly, I thought, my daughter seemed to have no sense of urgency about these things. She would sit placidly in the rocking chair, feeding her baby a bottle as though she hadn’t a care in the world. We would talk until I had to get ready for work. Then I would tell my husband in the evenings, “Well, Cameron called again this morning, and I got to see the baby. I don’t know why she keeps calling every day.” I hated to think of her feeling obligated to call me each morning during time when she might have been able to throw a load of clothes in the laundry or make up some bottles. How could I let her know she didn’t need to worry about calling me without sounding as though I didn’t want to talk?

We went on in this awkward (for me) fashion until one day Cameron, not having reached me earlier, called me about midmorning. I’ll never forget her little face on the screen, while she held Micah on her shoulder. I don’t remember her exact words but I think I remember is her saying,” Oh good. I’m glad I got you. I don’t seem to have as good a day with Micah when I don’t get to talk to you in the morning.”

DOH!!!! This wasn’t just a grandmother and grandson thing. It was a mother/daughter thing. I’m just slow on the uptake sometimes. My own mother and I made a good team when my children were born. She was endlessly helpful and often funny, but our phone calls were about business. Could she watch so and so while while I took so and so to the dentist? How did one cook a rump roast? Ok, over and out.

Well alrighty then. If the face timing was helping her, who was I to  complain about getting to see my grandson every single day of the year? Time rushed on. I was able to see every milestone and to hear every new word. Seeing Micah every day allowed me to do some grandmotherly things, like point out that his nose was running, or that I saw him put some contraband in his mouth. For a time Micah  believed that the iPad was named,”Call Mimi.” From watching his Mommy and Mimi drink coffee every morning, some of his first words, by necessity were “Hot coffee.” Though we usually talk in the morning, I sometimes get an extra call if Micah demands to speak to Mimi.

Almost two years have gone by. The other day Cameron asked apologetically if she called me too often, and I was overcome with gratitude. Too much??? Was she kidding?? She has called me every day because it was helping her, but she had no idea what the daily calls have meant to me. First, how big does a Mama’s head swell when she knows her daughter WANTS to talk to her every day? Second, how lucky am I that she not only wants to talk to me but that since she does not work outside of the home, she is able to make this time for me every day? I don’t have words for what  a wonderful gift it is to get to face time daily. I’m convinced that not many people are so blessed.

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Here  we are when we get to drink coffee together in person.

I realized I had never thanked her for all of this.  So thank you, sweetheart, from the bottom of my heart. I know what you’re already giving to your family. No one is more giving of their time than mothers. No one postpones their own needs as regularly as do mothers. No one works longer hours than mothers. I know every bit of this, but here I am , expectant, every morning,  coffee poured, waiting for my text asking, “Is Mimi awake?” To which I reply, “Oh, yes!” The computer trills, I press the answer button, and the Children’s Hour begins.

A Soft Landing

This is a short little story about the unexpected glories of aging. Between Christmas and the new year, I had the chance to get away for a few days. Usually my husband and I visit friends at their mountain cabin for New Year’s Eve, and on the way I sneak in a short but vital one night visit with my sister. When I found out our friends were not going to their cabin this year, my sister and I had to put our heads together quickly to be sure we got to see one another.

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Because we just need to. That’s why.

While I was searching for a meeting spot somewhere between our two homes, my friend R. mentioned that he too wanted to have a short getaway, and so he made us a trio. My online search wasn’t yielding much. It seems people book ahead for holiday trips. When I don’t immediately find what I want on line I tend to look more and more and more until I am totally flustered. In this case, as a last resort I typed in “state parks close to Knoxville” instead of “TN state parks close to Knoxville” and VOILA! Up it came! Cumberland Falls State Park in Corbin, Kentucky. And guess what? They had just ONE available cabin, a two story, two bedroom, two bath with kitchen and fireplace. I’ll take it!!  I shouted into the phone.

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View from the stairs of the cabin.

When I left for Cumberland Falls on the 28th I had made few concrete plans, perhaps because by that time I had had  three house guests for eight days.  I just threw some clothes in a bag, grabbed a couple of bottles of wine and hit the road with my friend R. The easy six hour ride I envisioned did not take place, as it rained hard on us all the way to Nashville, all the way to Bowling Green, and all the rest of the way. I’m a cautious driver in the rain, and so did not use my cruise control one time.  We drove through the dark wet night, two tired travelers, one with a cramped right leg, until we saw the welcoming lights of the  the 1930s era DuPont Lodge.

Soon we were at the executive two story cabin, enjoying the spread prepared by Ellen, who had not been delayed by rain. We could not have been more thrilled to simply put on our pajamas, drink a glass of wine, and eat cheese and crackers.

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The little table cloth belonged to my mother, who knew how to make folks feel comfortable. 

We found that each of us had brought little treats for the others. Ellen had brought adult coloring books. I had brought face cream and little facial kits, just in case, and R., a set of essential oils to share. No hikers ever smelled better.

In the morning we of course reconnoitered our surroundings by the light of day. Our cabins were situated on a ridge overlooking the Cumberland River.  About a fourth of a mile away was the Lodge, where we walked for a standard country breakfast.

After admiring the CCC  era lodge construction and lovely view from the restaurant windows, we made the important decisions of the day. To whit,  we would first walk whatever trails we could. Afterwards we would procure supplies, meaning wine. Ellen, who had approached the park from another direction, allowed as how she had passed the “Liquor King” on her way in. Third, we would build a fire with the firelogs we had purchased from the lodge. And finally, we would watch Transparent.

The weather was brisk but not too wet or too cold. And we three old folks set out for the woods.Let me tell you a little bit about the park. Known as “The Niagara Of The South”, the park is most famous for  its seven story waterfall on the Cumberland River.

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During full moons, a spectacular “moon bow” effect is seen on the water. We did not get to see that but enjoyed what we did see.

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The trails are well marked and maintained. There are  camping, hiking, horseback riding and water activities available depending on the season. We were fortunate to be able to rent the very last cabin for our stay.

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Just visible through the bars of the balcony is the warning that we are on a cliff. 

The first day we chose what we thought would be a manageable trail. After we left the Visitor’s Center we saw few other people. Sometimes we talked, but often we were each silently contemplating our own lives, watching our feet trudge through the fallen leaves. Though the scenery would no doubt be more striking in one of the three other seasons, we still found numerous photo opportunities.

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After several hours of hiking, or maybe it was only walking, we called it quits so that we could head into civilization. We had a good little drive before we pulled into Corbin. As I cruised down the main drag, Ellen kept a lookout for the “Liquor King” and sure enough there it was on the right. By the time we chose our wine and provisions we were eager to return to our cabin and build a fire.

Soon we were all in our pajama pants, reeking of soothing essential oils but ready to eat our cheese, hummus, fruit and cut veggies. We toasted to our collective health, for we had finished a somewhat arduous hike, which many folks our age cannot attempt. Our fire that night was not a success. Having no matches or extra kindling, we resorted to using toilet paper to stoke up the fire. Don’t even try it.

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Do note the handy toilet paper.

Finally we were ready to start watching Transparent. I had already seen it, but my companions had not. After watching several episodes our commentary was hotter than the fire. The writing: genius, the acting: genius, the characters: self centered and extremely annoying. ( If you are not familiar with this award winning Amazon Prime series, it is about a man in his 60s who comes out as transgendered. But the show is also about the lingering effects of secrets in families.)

Perhaps it was the combination of the thinking time we had during the first day and whatever we were reading ( I was reading a biography of Winston’s Churchill’s wife, aptly named Clementine ) along  with watching the dysfunctional Pfefferman family that evening, that gave rise to our conversations the second day.

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For a time we talked about what seemed important to each of us at the moment. R. was focused on the need to take pictures to record memories, not just for his family, but also for him. Ellen shared how she had, like me, been unable to take to scrapbooking. But we  all acknowledged that our memories had gotten somewhat tricky, and that we needed to make records of our time however we were able to do so. What was  the truth anyway, I wondered, writhing mentally, as I am wont to do,  at not being able to reconcile the various threads of the Churchill’s marriage.

Ellen, no doubt having grown tired of hearing about Clementine Churchill and the unfairness of it all,  mentioned some  tribulations of a family she knew. As tribulations go, they were of the kind that could happen to anyone.

Suddenly, the conversation changed from what happened to a certain family to what we know now that we are old. The three of us had entered a space where we did not have to censor ourselves for fear of upsetting someone else. Because by the time we  live past fifty, we have either lived through trying situations or known someone else who has. And we  can’t live through these things without coming out a little wiser at the end. We could admit our thoughts and conclusions now, for we were all past the stage of saying that these things could not or should not be so.

A family is no guarantee of happiness. 

In fact sometimes you have to protect yourself from your family.

You may have to face an obstacle or situation that you thought only happened to others, not to you or yours. In fact you will certainly have to do this. 

Some things don’t end. They are managed. But they don’t go away.

Dreams are not for some future date, but for today, for we are not guaranteed tomorrow.

This may sound depressing, but it was a moment of refreshing honesty. No one tells you these things. You must learn them for yourself. It felt good to know we had all paid our dues.

As we sat at the breakfast table, we felt the comfort of being old together, of knowing that we had all learned hard life lessons, and that we could openly say so.

After breakfast just as we had done the day before, we struck out for the woods, stopping to admire carved out boulders, caves, and waterfalls.

cumberland falls-178We had gotten a late start because of our leisurely breakfast.

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View from the back verandah of the Lodge.

Ellen was in a happier mood because that day she had actually remembered to wear her new hiking shoes. It seems some parts of growing are not profound, only silly.

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We passed through some muddy spots close to the river, where we each had to navigate in our own way to get to dry land.

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Once, R. who was in the lead at that time, lost his footing on a  slippery slope, unable to gain purchase on anything, and landed on his posterior at the bottom of a hill. Ellen was in front of me, and reached him first. I heard her ask if he was alright,  and he said he was. Then she asked, “Was it a soft landing?”

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That phrase has stuck with me. Soft landings. I think that is what we were all trying to say at breakfast. There are sadnesses and disappointments in life, in ways we never could have expected, but when we accept that these things are bound to happen, there is peace. Because there are sadnesses and disappointments, we decide give up on certain dreams and grieve our losses. In the process we learn to cherish the very simple but meaningful aspects of our lives: smiles, memories, small acts of service, being present for others. We find we can thrive on these. Productive lives have been made of less.

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When I was younger I struggled like anyone else, but without the knowledge that comes from experience, the knowledge that tells me that in the end I will find peace, increased awareness, humility,  or just an enhanced ability to appreciate daily life.

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In the woods, we three old folks were making our respective ways the best we could. In the end we chose a shorter route back to where we had begun, for the sun was setting faster than we expected.  Sometimes we became winded and longed to be back at the cabin. I found myself daydreaming of taking a piping hot bath upon my return. R. was no doubt wondering about his muddy pants, as he had brought only one pair. But even as we hiked the steep paths, we knew we could look forward to another cozy evening of sitting in front of a fire, warm in our pajamas. We were confident of  providing ourselves  a soft landing.

May you all find soft landings in the year ahead.

 

 

Right For The Job

Mom, what did you used to do?

Used to do about what, I asked.

What did you used to do all day when we were little?

I was in Pasadena to spend a few days with my daughter, son in law and 15 month old grandson. It was a spur of the moment trip, planned after I just had that feeling that I needed to be out there. We talk daily, and my daughter never  complains about her lot as a stay at home Mom, but lately she had seemed a little burdened. I decided that Mimi needed to come to town and assess the situation.

We didn’t have  many plans. I knew I wanted to be of help but didn’t exactly know what kind of help she might need. Not long after I arrived she asked what I used to do all day back when I used to stay at home all day with small children. Good question.

What DID I used to do all day? I didn’t remember, and privately, I figured it was probably irrelevant. That was so long ago, and I was a completely different person then. Besides, our situations were different. My daughter and her husband are in their thirties and completed their respective educations before Micah was born. On the other hand, by the time I had been married for three years, I had two babies under the age of two, a husband who drove our only car to work all day and attended graduate school at night. While my daughter and son in law are two of the most capable people I know, when I had small children I was scared to death.

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What did I know about raising children? Nothing!

The question receded to the back of my mind as I focused myself on the issues at hand. This visit was about what my daughter, not I,  was doing all day. What could I do to help?

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I got the impression that the days were long for my daughter, especially as they have no family where they live.

Well, my daughter DID ask me to share any ideas I might have about how her home could run more efficiently and more smoothly. Since I would be there all day maybe I would come up with some suggestions. I already knew one reason her days were long; my grandson is a wave of pure delightful genius and therefore hard to contain in an apartment. (Spoiler: My daughter just needed me to come out and help her, which I would have been doing on a daily basis if we lived in the same town.)

The first day there went very quickly. Micah was at his little preschool when I arrived, so we took that opportunity to hit her local thrift stores. After we picked the baby up from school I stayed at their house until Micah’s bed time, when I retired to my hotel room.

It wasn’t until the next day that I started to feel helpful. My daughter picked me up in the morning and brought me to her house. Apparently one need have no memory of what one used to do all day in order to fall right back into….what one used to do all day. The baby and I went into my daughter’s bedroom where while I made the bed, he investigated the shiny coasters on the night stand. When my task was finished, I grabbed him and made a hasty retreat from the room.

Next, Micah and I moved to the kitchen to unload the dishwasher.  With one swift move I removed the butter knives he had taken into the living room and thrust into his hand a  plastic spatula. Every fifteen seconds I had to make another swap in the name of safety. But the clean dishes were put away and the dirty ones loaded.Yes, this is what I used to do, to somehow run the house despite the children.

In the middle of the job my daughter walked in, surprised that I would be doing this while Micah was awake. Watching me intercept Micah’s grab for a dinner plate she remarked that having the baby interrupt would just drive her crazy. Hmm, I replied, it doesn’t bother me at all. Many years of practice had made it so.

That morning we paid a visit to the Mission Gabriel area of Pasadena, where we admired everything we could, given that we could not turn Micah loose in the cactus garden or in the streets, both places of vital interest to our little fellow. And because of his obsession penchant for being the one to push the stroller, he spent lots of his time in his Ergo, cuddled up to his Mama in the warm sunshine. When he began to sing softly to lull himself to sleep, we rushed him home to let him take his nap.

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Micah leaves no door unopened.

While he was asleep I organized his toys in the living room. Puzzles now rested beside puzzles, cars beside cars, wooden toys with other toys. Though Micah would soon make the arrangement of toys much more diverse, there was order in the room for now.

As I arranged the toys I felt the most insistent physical deja vu sensation. It was as though I were meeting myself again after 34 years of not seeing me. My body remembered. In my mind’s eye I saw myself at twenty five, with big hair and big glasses, moving like a whirlwind through the little house where we lived. Yes. I knew this person who used to run behind children all day, putting things back several times a day, only to repeat the process in a few hours.

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I recognized this person, and I liked her. During those years I never had the time or the luxury to think about whether my job was hard. After my daughter, my second child,  was born I was thrilled to be able to resign from teaching to be able to stay home with my children. I couldn’t tolerate the idea of someone else spending the day with my babies. I’m sure I wouldn’t have complained about the long hours, frustrations or tedium of being a stay at home Mom.

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I can’t say every day was a picnic.

It’s a little embarrassing to admit but I think I always assumed that because I was so young and inexperienced, that someone else could have done a better job than I did. That some other unknown person could have walked in and known exactly what to do, which would cause our household to run like an expensive Swiss watch. I would never make such an assumption about someone else. Now I realize that I never have given myself credit (though others have) for mustering up the courage and the creativity and the continuity it took to stay home with my three children.

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You just do what you have to do.

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And go with the flow.

In Pasadena with Micah, my old routine came right back to me. Whatever room I was in, I straightened or organized. Toys were put away before naps. I alternated playing and reading stories with doing chores or starting dinner, just as I had done all those years ago when  was alone with children all day and couldn’t go anywhere. Running along behind the children, trying to create some kind of order in the chaos was the only way I could figure out to cope, to give me some concrete sense of accomplishment, and to keep my mind off the fact that these children had been entrusted to me, who had no idea how to do this job.

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Parenting instructions were not very clear!

Somehow the children were raised, and I moved onto other things, without realizing I still harbored this negative judgement of myself. I forgot the way my day used to hinge on small but important  events, such as how long a nap lasted or whether we were out of applesauce, and how hard I worked to try to influence the outcome of those very events.  If I had not entered my daughter’s world to give moral and hands on support, I don’t know if I ever would have reexamined those years. But I had plenty of time to think when my daughter and son in law went away for the night together, their first night alone since Micah was born.

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Mommy and Daddy get ready to leave!

When the door closed behind them, the two of us got to work. We strolled, we went to the park, and we roughhoused so loudly that the downstairs neighbor called my daughter to complain about the noise. (Oops. Never raised a child in an apartment before.)

untitled-384I got to relive familiar scenes, including  being awakened by a chatting baby at 5:30 A.M., manhandling a screaming child into the car,  and strolling at the speed of light before a short attention span expires. But mostly I remembered how it feels to be the only adult alone with a whirling dervish. Is there a word for that feeling?

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Who, me? I never even THOUGHT about crashing this vase to the floor!

The trip was a success in every way.  I had sweet times with all my people out there, and felt gratified to have helped. In fact, my daughter wrote a post  about the visit if you care to see it. But the gift of revisiting my young mother self was an unexpected pleasure. It feels good  to look back on my younger self with admiration and appreciation. That new mother helped me become the confident grandmother I am today. And let tell you, as a grandmother I am quite confident. Who put a short sleeved shirt on that baby? And just where are his socks?

Since I can’t  reach back in time, I’m thanking that younger me right now, in print. Thanks dear, for all your hard work. You didn’t know what you could do until you needed to do it. It is important to acknowledge that what can seem like the most thankless of jobs is of immeasurable importance. The benefits of your efforts are reaching down through the generations. No one could have done better than you did. You were just right for the job!

1983-10

 

It’s All For You

I often miss out on time limited events. I am either out of town or have  just breezed into another town a day or two too late to take advantage of something. Missing out on things I would have liked to attend brings out a separate category of chagrin. And powerlessness. Missing the event means missing the experience as well as the memories I would have made, along the feelings I imagine I would have had about both. Woe is me!

But this summer fortune and opportunity finally aligned in my life.  My husband and I took a road trip to North Carolina. He is partial to the Asheville area because he went to Montreal every summer as a child. And the area is so beautiful that even though I had recently been to Asheville with my girls, I didn’t mind going back with him. After all we wouldn’t be doing the same things.

As a special treat we decided to start off our trip with a weekend in Winston Salem to visit my sister. While on the way I heard on NPR that  the last day of Maya Angelou’s estate sale would be held….would be held….  did I dare hope… could it be….. THE SAME DAY I WAS ARRIVING IN WINSTON-SALEM!!!!!!!!untitled-325

Have mercy. All I had to do was get from Knoxville to Winston-Salem and join in line in time and I would be allowed to enter her home free of charge. Sadly, my sister had to work at the library that day, so I would have to do my best to represent without her. My husband and I  left Knoxville that  Saturday morning, heading toward Winston Salem at a disconcerting 65 miles per hour. My stomach churned with anxiety as I wondered if my husband knew what a risk he was taking by doing something as absurd as trying to stick so close to the speed limit. This was an eighty mile an hour journey if I ever saw one.  Did I want to stop for lunch? No. Did I need to stop to go to the bathroom. No. Did I want anything to drink? No, because then I might need to go to the bathroom. And I was not going to stop.

Eventually we did have to stop for gas and crawl through a traffic jam after a wreck on the interstate before heading straight to Ms. Angelou’s home. Because we were in a tiny Fiat we found a parking space in front of the house. My husband pulled up to the house and I leaped out of the car like a stunt car driver and into the line in her front yard. By the time he parked the car twenty more folks were behind me. Two hours remained of the sale.

For me, part one of the sale was the festive air outside the sale. This was no ordinary estate sale crowd, full of whiskered old men looking for yard tools, or bargain savvy couples looking for a good deal on a barely used mattress. No, we were all pilgrims who had come for the experience more than for whatever artifact might still be available at the end of the sale. Word passed down through the line that there was nothing left but books. Ah, we all nodded, pleased. To leave with a book would suit all of us just fine. About twenty minutes after I joined the line, a policeman walked to the back of the line and closed it. No more pilgrims would be admitted.

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A kinder, gentler estate sale crowd.

Ever so slowly we inched toward the house, chatting with one another to pass the time.  Two sisters had driven in from Raleigh for the sale. The couple in front of us had left their baby with a sitter to attend. Bottled water was for sale from several vendors. And this police lady wanted to make friends with my husband.untitled-117 I wonder if Ms. Angelou had found the city as welcoming? I hope so.

And then I was in! The instant camaraderie with my fellow estate sellers was somewhat dampened by the crush of all the seekers who had already gained entrance to the home. I admit that I briefly visualized myself shoving through the crowds, flinging aside fellow book lovers who formed inconvenient bottlenecks in the hallways. But then, there was Dr. Angelou’s gaze upon me almost everywhere I went. In my mind I could hear her say, “Slow down, young lady. we’re civilized in this house.”untitled-336

Don't you run in my house!

Don’t you run in my house!

Suitably chastened, I made my way through the crowded, overheated rooms.

At least SHE wasn't bothered by the heat!

At least SHE wasn’t bothered by the heat!

There really was nothing left except books and expensive art. But mostly books. And oh, what a wonderland of books. This woman was interested in EVERYTHING: poetry, history, fiction, publisher’s proofs, cookbooks, gardening, – heck, she had the entire Dewey Decimal system represented. The senses of spiritual, emotional, and intellectual richness struck me wherever I turned. Why, I lamented, oh why had I not offered  my services as a menial helper in order in exchange  for access to her books, or even to have had a chance to meet her, while she was still alive? Finally I descended into to her book packed basement which was full of even more seekers avidly browsing the shelves.untitled-118

I conducted a random poll of facial expressions in the basement and quickly determined that every person there wished the same things I did. It was too late now in this life to meet Dr. Angelou, so we would have to do the next best thing. We would all leave with a book she had owned. If we were fortunate, maybe we would happen upon  a book she loved, a book she had held in her hands while her brain arranged some fresh new wisdom to share with the world.

I flipped through book after book but not in the leisurely fashion I would have hoped. Should I purchase books I had already read but loved, knowing that the fact that It had belonged to Dr. Angelou would add an extra level of specialness? Or should I look for something new? And how many books did I need anyway? Shouldn’t I be choosing books for those folks not fortunate enough to be here today?

Everybody was choosing something!

Everybody was choosing something!

In the end I think Maya guided my choices. I paid for an armload of books, each of which had Dr. Angelou’s nameplate or signature inside. The sale was arranged so that after one paid, one exited through the house’s lovely grounds. I poked my head into the guest house and lingered on the patio. Each step brought me closer to the gate and the end of my personal glimpse into the life of a remarkable woman.untitled-351

untitled-341Once I left her home the experience lived on. My sister Ellen was the first to choose from the books I had purchased, opting for a book about the Harlem Renaissance. The next to choose were my daughter and son in law, who selected The Remains Of The Day and a volume by Thomas Merton. I set aside a book about Scott Joplin for one of my sons. I happily took the remaining book, a biography of a female painter unknown to me. As enjoyable as it had been to briefly own all the books, giving them away was even more so.

As a final unexpected surprise, and I can barely believe this is true, my daughter found an original, hand written poem by Dr. Angelou inside Thomas Merton on Saint Bernard.  I realize that I did not find the poem so it’s not really my tale to tell, but I choose to think the poem could have just as well been meant for me. After all, Dr. Angelou, who once thought Shakespeare was a little black girl,  did say, “The poetry was written for you. It’s all for you.”

We do all share in the beauty and wisdom of the written word. Such treasures are meant to be shared. If a little black girl in Stamps, Arkansas can feel that Shakespeare spoke to her, I can believe that Maya’s words and her world could be meant for me, a white middle class grandmother whose forebears wouldn’t have let her walk through their front doors. Even if I didn’t get to read the poem, which has been sent to her archives, I feel certain that she would have wanted to speak to me. She would have wanted to share her home, her work, her library and her legacy freely with people who would then pass the gift on to others. May we all be so generous.untitled-337

Lessons From A Suitcase

On Monday night I sat on the floor of my daughter’s old room, contemplating the yawning mouth of her enormous  brown suitcase. I had just emptied said suitcase of what few items still remained in it after my daughter’s week long visit, in order to repack it for her return trip.  How unfair, I said to myself, that Mothers not only have to let their daughters leave home, but they also have to help them pack their clothes. Separating my grandson’s clothes out from my daughter’s clothes, I sniffed to myself that this was just like having to go out in the yard and pick your own switch. If you’re from the South you’ll understand that reference.

We don't mess around in the South.

We don’t mess around in the South.

For a week I had been luxuriating in a visit from my daughter Cameron and my angel grandson Micah. ( For those of you who don’t know, Cameron and Micah live in Pasadena with their darling Daddy, who was busy this week at a conference and unable to join them.)  It was the best kind of visit, the kind that is not prompted by a certain event or obligation other than to glory in occupying the same space. The lack of planned activities meant that my husband and I were granted  the wondrous gift of having our daughter and grandson  all to ourselves. Aaah.

As I folded little rompers and onesies, I mentally unfurled  the memories of all our fun together. Drinking coffee in a leisurely fashion in the morning, with Micah playing at our feet. auhgust 2015-61

Not to mention the help with the dishwasher!

Not to mention the help with the dishwasher!

Hearing a sweet tiny voice talking to his stuffed bear in his pack and play.auhgust 2015-17 Having two grandchildren play  together, even if the older one is afraid of the younger one. auhgust 2015-155

The Mommies with their babies.

The Mommies with their babies.

Experiencing the kindness of folks in Memphis.

Our waitress wrote a thank you note on our receipt because we cleaned up Micah's high chair. AND she comped us five dollars!

Our waitress wrote a thank you note on our receipt because we cleaned up Micah’s high chair. AND she comped us five dollars!

Micah appreciated being given the run of the bra store. Would they do that in California, one wonders?

Micah appreciated being given the run of the bra store. Would they do that in California, one wonders?

Having my daughter, who at 18  “had to get out of the South” eager to get all up in the grit and grind of Memphis.That’s right; now WE’RE the cool ones! ( By the way, her glowing account of her visit can be found here.auhgust 2015-47

Dead asleep at the beer joint.

Dead asleep at the beer joint.

And so was this baby after grinding it at the zoo.

And so was this baby after grinding it at the zoo.

Watching my daughter with her own Daddy, carrying Micah home.auhgust 2015-122

Glorious.

The only sad note was that Cameron couldn’t share her fun with her husband. We hated that he had to miss, for example, Micah swinging at a beer glass and shattering it, or Micah whapping his head on my travertine floor. It just didn’t feel right not to have him here with the rest of us.

Now, having separated Micah’s things into piles, I began to stack and roll them up, a technique I have used throughout the years in order to fit more things into the ugly brown suitcase. I hate you suitcase, I said silently, and would have stomped my foot on the floor for good measure except the baby was asleep. I felt I had reason to detest  this selfish bag, with its seductive expanding compartments, always luring my daughter further away from home.

I would put a photo of the suitcase here, but why would I photograph such a thing?

Like most parents, I didn’t exactly realize that when I was gracious enough to allow my daughter to leave home for college that she wasn’t ever coming back. It was the ugly brown suitcase that taught me that lesson. First we had to cram it full for college, 750 miles away. Soon my daughter’s course of study would lead her to  Russia for a semester. Dutifully I rolled and packed fluffy coats and durable boots into the behemoth bag. I secreted little notes in her coat pockets. It was a comfort to me to think of her so far away, finding a note from home.

After Russia the trips away seemed constant. She retuned once to St. Petersburg, then graduated, then drove across the country for graduate school. Inevitably, the night before she left, instead of licking my wounds,  I was creatively engineering  cowboy boots, furry coats, mens’ oversized shirts, or whatever her current fashion interest was, inside Mr. Suitcase. I was not gentle with the suitcase.  Take these belts and clunky bead necklaces, sir, and overweight bags be damned! 

My daughter’s comings and goings eventually led to graduation, marriage, motherhood and the carving out of a novel career. Now I’d had her for a week, taking her to see things that didn’t used to exist last time she lived here. That was fun enough, but it was more than just fun.auhgust 2015-83

Because here’s the thing about Cameron. I don’t say this just because she is my daughter. It  just so happens that she  is just a pure  joy to be around. I promise you would want her for a friend, and not just because she’s brilliant and interesting.  Those are fine qualities in a friend, but what stands out in Cameron is her love for others. She is never too busy to do something thoughtful for someone else, something that shows she cares. She is consistently warm and encouraging. Getting her to myself for a week felt like going to a luxurious spa, one that allows thirteen month old babies.

Spa bound!

Spa bound!

My daughter and I jammed in  the rolled items, along with one million plastic baby bottles, and added a new stuffed bear, Micah’s souvenir from the zoo. Cameron had said over and over how much fun she had had being in Memphis. She hated to leave, but she and Micah really missed Daddy. We had missed him as well on all our jaunts. And oh, how he missed his little family this week!

Who wouldn't miss this face?

Who wouldn’t miss this face?

I zipped up Mr. Ugly brown suitcase, packed tight with treasures. Reflecting on how the family would reunite the next  morning, I realized this ubiquitous mud brown bag had yet another lesson to teach me. My heart swelled as I pictured Micah’s Daddy swooping him up in one arm while pulling my daughter close. They are a family now, making a firm foundation for Micah’s future, and that is as it should be.  For this trip my daughter packed bottles and baby clothes. One day it will be jeans, hoodies, and enormous shoes. That is also how it should be. It is right and I am glad. We are always preparing for the next step of our journey whether we realize it or not.

Thanks, Mr. Suitcase. I guess you’re not so bad after all. 

The Return of the Whiteway Girls

Long ago when I was a child I used to play with the other girls on Whiteway Drive, where I lived.  When we got together, big plans ensued, because someone would  always  have an inspiration. Why don’t we all get our Barbie stuff and play on Jane’s patio? Why don’t we get umbrellas and pretend we’re on The Avengers? Why don’t we play Miss America, or gin rummy? Why don’t we play hide and seek after dark? Often my younger sister Ellen hoped  to be included in our pursuits but as I recall, in my rarified spot as the oldest sister, I forbade her from coming any closer than three sidewalk squares of any spot occupied by my friends or myself.  In time we all grew up. Some of us lost touch. Three of us moved away.

In all, five of us stayed in touch in various combinations, but we were never together at the same time. We were adults now and life was happening to us: careers, relationships, children. Also children, children, and children. In the last few years I found myself saying what fun it would be to rent a house somewhere and have us all come. No kids. No spouses, no responsibilities.

I don’t want to admit  that it took one of us becoming  gravely  ill to force us out of just SAYING  we should get together to YES. WE WILL GET TOGETHER. But it’s true. This spring, after our friend Jane  was well on the way to recovery, we began to plan in earnest. Texts and emails flew back and forth. Our eyes burned from scrolling through VRBO listings. But we did choose a place: Asheville, North Carolina, and booked the dates.

Five of us were to attend: Mary, Jane, Mary Beth – that’s me, Gayle, and Ellen. Mary and Jane are sisters. Ellen and I are sisters. On the appointed day I flew into Greensboro and was met by my trusty companion, Ellen. Luckily for me, Ellen nursed no grudge about having NEVER been included in our games as a child- oh, come on, she had kids her own age to play with- but she shared a little trepidation about this inaugural trip. Her concern was that she had never spent much time with Mary while growing up, because Mary is  like, even two more years older than I am. She hoped they would hit it off. I too had a valid concern. What if these girls were  drinkers of CHEAP WINE??? That would be INTOLERABLE!girls trip 2015-59

Despite these small worries, we made it to Asheville in good spirits, and as it happened, with several bottles of wine, chosen by moi, to share. Jane and Mary had  arrived first, and no doubt emboldened by imbibing some of their own wine, had boldly chosen the main bedroom for themselves. Was that OK with us, they asked. Certainly, the other three of us replied. We had carefully chosen a house with three private bedrooms and three private baths. There would be no turf wars here!girls trip 2015-2

girls trip 2015-3After deciding upon our sleeping arrangements we ventured down our mountain into downtown Asheville. Parking took awhile because each one of us had her own ideas about how and where to park, but eventually we were prowling the downtown streets with the efficiency of five disinterested cats. We approached restaurant after restaurant, read their menus and at least one of us would say, “Let’s keep walking.” “Let’s go here,” I suggested finally, winning the prize for having the first inspiration of the evening. We ducked into Zambra, which was reputed to have good tapas and drinks.

While waiting for a table, we gathered at the “confessional”. Enough said.girls trip 2015-82We each picked something to drink, I don’t recall what, and had a merry time until we were escorted to our lovely romantic table in the courtyard. girls trip 2015-87Dinner was a series of small plates. Everyone seemed satisfied  with their choices. We were a perfectly happy group of old ladies. Our trip was off to a capital start.

The next day we attended the The Big Crafty Fair, followed by dinner at the Tupelo Honey Cafe.

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They had me at AC!

girls trip 2015-85Or maybe not, because at some point we stopped in at the Book Exchange and Champagne Bar. Surveying the many nooks and crannies of the store I  could not help but wish my companions would indulge me in just one more game of hide and seek.

You know you could hide behind those chairs. And beyond them, a bookcase to the second floor!

You know you could hide behind those chairs. And beyond them, a bookcase to the second floor!

Oh well. I amused myself by taking pictures of my companions for a fictional dossier. I had to make use of all the scoop I’d had on these girls all these years!

Fact: They had more Barbie stuff than I did.

Fact: They had more Barbie stuff than I did. And they still wear matching outfits.

Fact: Her Mother used to buy Coke AND Koolaid! Lucky duck!

Fact: Her Mother used to buy Coke AND Koolaid! Lucky duck!

And our bill came in a Dr. Seuss book!

And our bill came in a Dr. Seuss book!

Monday we hit the River Arts District, where a couple of us found things we just had to have.

These ladies wanted to go home with Ellen.

These ladies wanted to go home with Ellen.

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Should we tell this man to use the inside facilities?

Should we tell this man to use the inside facilities?

We agreed.

We agreed.

This I found beautiful, but it was not for sale.

This I found beautiful, but it was not for sale.

The dossier continues. Fact: This little lady and her friend Sandra ate All the candy I had planned to serve at my slumber party, and had NO REMORSE!

The dossier continues. Fact: This little lady and her friend Sandra ate All the candy I had planned to serve at my slumber party, and had NO REMORSE!

Fact: I never even TOLD the other ladies that Ellen hung her footies to dry on the light fixture. That's loyalty.

Fact: I never even TOLD the other ladies that Ellen hung her footies to dry on the light fixture. That’s loyalty.

I’m thinking we stayed home that night and enjoyed some delicious vegetables from Ellen’s garden. girls trip 2015-51What was our dinner conversation? It was about how powerful we all are! We added up the combined years of our marriages, and of our motherhood. I can’t remember the numbers, but they were large! We marveled at how once upon a time we made pretend Barbie families, but now our lives were  completely real. Each one of us had buried a parent, tended sick family members, and faced personal disappointments. But dang it, here we were watching the sun set over the mountains, happy to be supporting one another.girls trip 2015-92girls trip 2015-57

Our feelings of power led to a rollicking game of “Catch Phrase” and I confess I have no pictures of that. Early Tuesday Gayle had to leave us because her mom was being released from the hospital. We were sad to see her go, but glad that she, as  the main caretaker of her elderly mother, had been able to join us at all. We knew how lucky we were.

After she left, Ellen tried to cheer us all up by suggesting we work a  “very easy” 250 piece  puzzle. Like the Little Red Hen, she started on it by herself and soon had it worked mostly all wrong. She thought maybe some puzzle pieces were missing, or that two puzzles were mixed up in the same box, but no..she had just done it wrong. It seemed that all the puzzle pieces were the same size and the same shape. Each piece held a word or a definition, and the two had to match correctly. Let me tell you, even the librarian among us did not know most of these vocabulary words. Eventually we all joined in the puzzle, each in our own way denouncing the mean spirited folks who could have invented such a deceptive device.

After a time we left the puzzle and went into town for some shopping and a Mediterranean lunch.girls trip 2015-89

But when we returned, there was the puzzle, mocking us silently. Thankfully Mary took the lead, gently insisting that Ellen move connected sections one piece at a time instead of brazenly shoving them across the table. I think the two of them made a good connection indeed.

Fact: I wouldn't have had the patience for this in 1968.

Fact: I wouldn’t have had the patience for this in 1968.

Finally, the thing was complete, and we could hit our normal old lady bedtimes with a sense of accomplishment. But first, a little more relaxing on the porch.girls trip 2015-96 The next morning we parted ways: Mary and Jane to Charlotte, Ellen and I to Winston Salem, where I would spend the night before returning  to Memphis.girls trip 2015-67Ellen’s husband had a lovely al fresco dinner waiting for us, and as we ate we reviewed the success of the first getaway of the Whiteway girls. We dreamed it, and we did it. All the coming year no matter what happens, we will savor our new memories. Any thoughts on where we should go next year?

A sad goodbye at the airport.

A sad goodbye at the airport.

Green Acres

I’m a  city girl. I come from a line of merchants and skilled workers. I don’t know how many generations I would have to go back to find an ancestor who lived off the land. I grew up in a subdivision which, though made from drained bottomland from Nonconnah Creek, gave no hint it had ever been connected to a rural landscape. The lawns were manicured by the Dads of the neighborhood. Plants other than grass were kept in flowerbeds where children were not allowed.

We knew that “the country” existed, because when we went to pick up the maids who worked for us from their sharecropper cabins we had to drive past fields of cotton. But food came from the store. There was no need to know how to grow it, thanks to advances in modern science.  Despite having no close family connection to farming, I always longed for the grounding feeling produced by growing  things. I remember once as a small child having a packet of morning glory seeds and planting them against my neighbor’s brick fence. I don’t even remember if they grew.

I have stayed a city girl, but I’ve tried to do my own bit of farming, with limited success. But guess what? A few years ago my daughter married someone who grew up on a real farm!  How exotic is that? I groaned with envy every time my daughter described her visits to the farm: so peaceful, so practical. And this year, thanks to the birth of my grandson, I too was invited to the B.’s ( the in-laws’) farm!

The farm is only a few hours’ drive from here, so when my daughter, son in law and grandson came to the farm from California, we made plans to horn in on their visit a little bit. My husband and I made reservations to stay at a cabin at a nearby winery where we hopefully would not be too much in the way. I knew I would get my hands on my precious grandson by hook or by crook but secretly I hoped also to see the farm.

When we arrived late on a Thursday, I was tired out from my previous adventure of keeping my five month old grand daughter for the past four nights. I suppose I didn’t feel like the best of sports when I realized our “cabin” was actually a duded up mobile home. untitled-146Luckily, a night’s uninterrupted sleep helped me appreciate the beauty of my surroundings. The little cabin turned out to meet our needs perfectly and the air-conditioning was SUPERB.

Evening at Shale Lake Winery

Evening at Shale Lake Winery

After exploring the winery grounds that morning farm 2015we headed to the farm with plans to see the baby. I didn’t get a lot of pictures, as he tends to be a moving target, but I did manage a few of my cutie:

With his

With his “practice” birthday cake

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Playing the piano after his bath

Playing the piano after his bath

On the swing with Mommy

On the swing with Mommy

On the Fourth of July I learned that my husband had boldly asked for  a tour of the farm.. How do I describe the farm? First of all, imagine a driveway that is one mile long!!!! The B.’s could never have unexpected human company; they could probably vacuum the whole house from the time they saw a car turning onto their property until it reached the house! The farm has been in the B. family for generations, and the current farmhouse was built in the 1960s. It is a working house, built with farm life in mind, with a  generous kitchen, a mudroom and a working shower in the basement for when you just shouldn’t be tramping up to the upstairs bathrooms. The dining room window frames the backyard pond. I love the idea of a home built to fit a lifestyle rather than having to make the home fit the people.

The old farmhouse which was later converted to a barn.

The old farmhouse which was later converted to a barn.

The B.s’ were ready to show us the farm, but first, they needed to fulfill the family tradition of taking their picture in the fields. We were delighted to tag  along, especially since that meant getting to sit on the back of a pickup truck and zoom around the farm! Yee hah! Fast times for a city girl!untitled-219

Next, we got a tour of the farm machinery. My husband was eager to know how everything worked. farm 2015-6Farmer B., it seems, is somewhat of a mechanical genius, able to keep old machines running, thereby keeping costs down.

In the combine!

In the combine!

But while my husband appreciated Farmer B.’s mechanical talents, I was busy admiring the shapes and textures in the barn.untitled-232

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Somehow the B.s are able to get their work accomplished despite all the intriguing shapes and colors. They are respectful stewards of the land and of all the creatures who live there.

Baby birds

Baby birds

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Hard working hands. Farmer B. doesn't sit still any more than  his grandson does.

Hard working hands. Farmer B. doesn’t sit still any more than his grandson does.

At lunchtime we returned to the house for what I am told is a typical farm lunch: roast, two kinds of potatoes, mixed vegetables, salad, berries, nuts, jello, mousse, and several kinds of cookies. Somehow Farmerette B. had whipped up this lunch in the middle of taking family pictures and keeping up with her grandson. And by the way she has no dishwasher!!!!  I already knew Farmerette B. to be a  human dynamo, but seeing the way she so effortlessly managed the household while at the same time  doing more than a fair share of the farm work gave me a new appreciation. These B.s are a very effective team!

After lunch it was time for a real farm experience: shooting a gun! Other than going with a high school boyfriend somewhere and trying to shoot at tin cans, I had never had the opportunity or reason to use a gun.  Farmer B. was a patient teacher, emphasizing the gun safety rules that all farm children are taught at an early age. Because guns are sometimes used on farms, he wanted us to know that our grandson would eventually have the opportunity to learn to shoot, and that it would be handled in a safe manner. He may not have realized he did not need to earn my trust; he already had it.untitled-195-2

And now there there was one more big fat farm treat! Tractor driving! Farmer B. revved up a big green tractor, and all of us city kids lined up for a chance to drive it. Before I knew it I was heading down a field with Farmer B. as my co-pilot, belting out the lyrics to “Green Acres.” When we had all driven the tractor, Farmer B. put it in reverse to return it to the barn. Next time I”M putting it in reverse. That looked and sounded awesome!farm 2015-19 All too soon it was time to return to our winery/mobile home. As an added bonus our daughter, son in law and grandson joined us for the night. Micah enjoyed taking a thorough turn through the accommodations.farm 2015-3

Here I am sporting my Walmart pajamas on my mobile home porch. I'm starting to acclimate to country life.

Here I am sporting my Walmart pajamas on my mobile home porch. I’m starting to acclimate to country life.

As always, travel, especially to a new place, causes me to reflect on the beautiful diversity of life. What must it feel like to pass each day overlooking the same fields my parents looked at each day? What must it be like to be able to walk right outside my door and know that all the richness of the surrounding land is mine to tend? How must it feel to spend my days connected to the land, attuned to every small change in the atmosphere, and to be able to watch the sun, unobstructed by buildings, set each evening as though it were performing just for me?

I am sure out of ignorance I am leaving out many hard parts of farming, but to me the way of life seems authentic, sacred even. No wonder the B.s are such peaceful folk. I wonder about myself. Am I a city girl simply because that is where I was born? Could I adapt to a life like the B.s? It’s fun to dream, even though I would probably be no more effective as a farmer than Oliver Wendell Douglas on Green Acres. But I can tell you one thing: I can already drive a tractor!untitled-190