Still Here, Part Two

In my last post I wrote about two major events which occurred in late 2016: my sister’s illness, and the Presidential election. 

The rest of 2016 was dedicated to matters close to home. I just couldn’t afford to  think about the election travesty, and anyway that wasn’t until January, if the world lasted that long.  Soon Ellen shared the news of her illness with the rest of the family, so that I could openly discuss plans with my other sister Carla. We had just gone in October to visit our terminally ill cousin. Now we would go together again in early December for Ellen’s surgery.

 

Ellen had with her usual efficiency taken care of her underwear situation and organized her home. When Carla and I  arrived the day before the surgery we were just in time to help her decide to place a groovy vintage couch on  layaway. For one must recuperate in style. We met her at the hospital early the next morning. I won’t share a picture here, but she was as cute as a button, armed with a holy cards, one of which was that of St. Peregrine, the patron saint of cancer patients. But here we are the night before, sporting matching infinity scarves made by Ellen’s best friend Sherry.

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During surgery there was nothing for us sisters to do, except walk from our hotel to Old Salem. Who was I fooling, thinking I would have been able to knit, to  make something while Ellen was um, deconstructed? No, all we could do was look at beautiful things and buy some. Carla can always be relied upon to contribute to the local economy wherever we go.

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The days run together in my mind, but Ellen’s surgery Carla and I were there the next day when she received visitors. Ellen’s  oldest daughter doesn’t live in Winston and was starting a new job, so she was ordered not to appear for the surgery. Bailey and son Lyle were able to breeze in to see their mother, but Mary Hannah, the youngest, wasn’t so sure she liked being in a hospital room.

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trip to ellensMary Hannah’s reluctance gave me a great chance to wrestle her down into a recliner and hug her tight. We then passed the time looking at pictures of what she might like for Christmas.

trip to ellens-2Things like this, just in case you’re trying to think of a gift for her.

trip to ellens-14After a couple of nights Ellen was discharged from the hospital. While she waited upstairs for a wheelchair that never arrived, Carla and I sneaked into the hospital gift shop. How could we not have already thought of a going home treat for her? Because one couldn’t prepare for every little thing, I suppose. Neither of us had thought much about gifts, as our presence was surely the best one of all.  The night was cold and windy, and Ellen wouldn’t have thought of bringing something warm  but stylish to wear home. No worries. The sisters  found a matching tunic, scarf and jewelry for the ride home. Because one must travel in style.

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And did we enjoy getting to make her fashion decisions, knowing that in her drug addled state she was putty in our hands? Oh my, yes. She might have chosen the underwear, but we controlled the rest!

We helped bundle the patient, redolent with stylish accoutrements straight from the hospital gift store, into her husband’s car to go home. As her home was not close to the hotel, we did not accompany her. With our precious one in good hands, we repaired to our hotel, battling the winds whipping through the parking lot. I think I may have forced Carla right into the hotel restaurant, which to me by then could have been a five star destination. We were cold and tired, and were happy to have whatever the special was.

I may not have mentioned that everyone loves Ellen, her husband, and her whole family. I’ll bet there aren’t but one or two people in Winston that she or members of her family haven’t cheerfully helped, through a variety of organizations, or just on the sly, knowing someone could use a hand. They know how to give, meaning they give with no thought of receiving anything in return. Carla and I were certain that once we left town folks would be lining up to have a chance to return the many favors  Ellen’s family has so selflessly given through the years.

Carla and I had the Hawthorne Inn Restaurant, along with its one waiter, almost to ourselves. In a sudden wave of giddiness brought on by worry, love, and exhaustion, we judged the diet coke and house cabernet to be the best we had yet encountered.  We had loved our favorite girl right through her surgery and now she was safe at home. Nothing could beat that feeling.

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Still Here, Part One

 

I believe creativity to be a window and outlet for the human soul. So imagine my discomfort when  this last  year the universe nailed ugly plywood sheets over every creative opening I had once enjoyed. I’m not the first person to experience this, and I won’t be the last. Life happens. I’ll tell you how it happened for me, and it’s a long story,  but first let me say I did not accept this situation meekly. I always knew it to be temporary. Because NOBODY PUTS THE MAGPIE IN THE CORNER AND COVERS HER WITH PLYWOOD!!!!

Ready for Part One of the story?

In the fall of 2016 I was headed toward burnout. I was babysitting my granddaughter a  lot. The baby had been sick, and so had I. When my sister invited me to come see her in Winston Salem, NC for a few days I was thrilled. I saw myself knitting, relaxing in her backyard with the chickens, having no responsibilities. As I settled into her car at the airport Ellen told me she had just seen her doctor regarding some post menopausal bleeding. Having dealt with that same situation, I  was able to commiserate with her. In my case it was nothing, and likely to be nothing in her case. She would get the results next week. In the meantime we needed to gather our ingredients for a Nasty Woman, because this was Election Day, and I wanted my Pantsuit Party.

That night we made the drinks….

but there was no Pantsuit Party. In fact something was terribly wrong because Hillary was not winning!   We weren’t watching television but I kept checking my phone and Hillary was not winning! When I went to bed Hillary was still not winning!   In the morning when my sister woke me at the crack of dawn to go with her to work instead of letting me sit in the backyard with the chickens, it was still the same.

As soon as we were ensconced in one of the school libraries where Ellen worked, I took her car keys and went to find a coffeeshop where I could purchase enough caffeine to mitigate the Nasty Women of the previous night and call my husband, because the world had ended. I called him. I called my daughter. I would have called my sons but they were at work or school.  We railed at the thought of this misogynistic buffoon holding the highest office in the land. We bargained. We denied. And it made no difference. There was no place, no space, to grieve the tragedy of this man’s election, nor those tragedies we knew he was yet to cause.

The next morning, as many of you did, I awoke to find it was STILL just the same. No one had stepped in to save our country from this ….disgraceful demagogue. And Ellen STILL made me go to work with her, this time to an elementary school library. I was shelving books, glad to be busy, when my sister’s cell phone rang, and right after that, my cell phone. My phone call was from my brother in law, wanting to know if I was with Ellen because her doctor was calling her with her biopsy results. Already.

I turned to find that Ellen had just hung up the phone. ” Blank,” she said to me and her trusty library aide.  “I have cancer.”

Just then the second grade filed  into the library. In some sort  of a slo-mo  unrehearsed ballet, the aide and I greeted the class while Ellen stepped out to call her husband and alert her principal that she would be leaving. The students, surprised to see someone else who looked just like their librarian, were full of  curiosity and not all that willing to sit at the tables or on the rug to be read a story. As I sat on the rug trying to herd the second graders I wondered. Could it be true that Trump would be President AND that Ellen could have cancer? At the same time? This girl? ( I refuse to add pictures of the other.)

 

Still in a dream, Ellen and I left the school. What did we do now?”Where would you like to go?” I asked. “To church,” she replied, and we set off. Luckily her pastor was in and able to speak with us. She asked him for a blessing. It seemed a little maudlin, but I thought she might later like to see pictures of these moments.

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When we left the church, there was nothing for us to do but to be ourselves.  And what do the two of us typically do? We exult. We adventure. We plan. We read. We laugh. We do these things simultaneously, organically.  Since her children did not yet know of her diagnosis there was even more reason for us to go on that weekend as we had intended. In between our activities, little awarenesses came to me: I’m so glad I was here when she got the call. And, I’m quitting my job. And Dad blast it, that fool’s going to be the president.

As we drove that day, on our way to thrift and look at art, we got down to the planning. From long years of indoctrination by our mother, we knew that the most pressing problem, now that we knew a hysterectomy, chemo and radiation were in order, was the correct underwear. New, of course, But what kind, to accommodate incisions as well as decency? Briefs? Low risers? Bikinis? Cancer is complicated.

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The next day Ellen had planned to visit her son Lyle at his cute cabin in the woods. In fact it is a restored one room school house. This baby had no idea that in just a few months he would shave his head in solidarity with his mother.

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Back at Ellen’s house we continued to softly discuss her situation  when possible. Who to tell. When to tell. What to tell. And again, about the underwear. The socks. And we made a little offering of  our own because every little bit helps.

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That weekend we rappelled down a climbing wall at Raven Knob Boy Scout Camp. Ellen was of course more brave than I. I had to be talked down off the top by the gentle instructor Mac who is now my best friend.

 

 

At the end of the day Ellen, Stan, her husband, and I hiked a mile to the top of Raven Knob. Here we could talk and reflect as we wished. But Ellen and Stan, when faced with a task, are doers, not talkers. They pitch in and get get the job done without much folderol. So we all sat in a companionable silence, surrounded by beauty, uncertainty, and love. I don’t know what they were thinking. However, I, lover of folderol that I am, was feeling out the idea that Ellen had already embarked upon her journey, and that I could not be there for every part of it. Surely this was even more cruel than having an  entitled jackass for the president?

 

What The World Needs Now

Note to readers: I wrote this post last fall. I find I cannot talk as much about right now as I would like to unless I fill in a little about the past. Rest in peace, Edward Marion James. Jr.

Sometimes the most unlikely events align.Over the past year and a half my sisters and I had been following reports of our cousin Mike’s ill health. Mike is the son of my mother’s brother, Edward. And Eddie and my mother also shared two more sisters and two more brothers each. Most of those siblings lived in Memphis, so on Christmas and Thanksgiving  the grandparents, parents and grandchildren filled every speck of space at my grandparents’ home, so packed in that it seemed that if Grandaddy stirred in his chair in the living room, a domino effect occurred, one person bumping another, until someone spilled out onto the front porch.

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Our grandparents,

We seemed to be one collective person, yet we were individuals. I had girl cousins my age, so on holidays I made a beeline for them, while my sister Ellen often played with Mike who was about her age. And like most families, family dynamics played a part in the amount of time cousins spent with one another. Our oldest two uncles moved in and out of Memphis, and as the three sisters were very close, we tended to see more of our aunt’s children than our uncle’s children.

Time marched on. The children became adults and scattered. Mike moved to the Chicago area, and I never saw him except at funerals. Thanks to Facebook,  I was able to connect with Mike as well as with other cousins. We learned Mike’s health was not good, and in time he got the diagnosis we feared he would receive: ALS.  Among the sisters we wondered what we could do for him other than offer prayers and positive thoughts. My sister Carla and I live in Memphis and Ellen lives in North Carolina, so casseroles were out of the question. What if…. would it work if all three of us were to go up and see him?

The three of us had somehow never traveled together. Carla has a busy career,  and spends her vacation  time  traveling  with her large family, an entourage, really,  visiting destinations outside the United States. In recent years I have spent more of my free  time visiting my grandchildren, or being visited by them. I have managed to travel some with Ellen, but not with Carla. Ellen, who lives 650 miles away from us has had to concentrate most recently on her graduate studies and had just recently gotten her first job as a professional librarian.

Still, what if we did run up and see Mike , even though we never travel together and neither has seen Mike for at least fifteen years? Naw, that couldn’t work. Because jobs. Because children. Because grandchildren. But guess what? It did work out one weekend this fall. We each left town on Friday afternoon for Chicago. Carla and I arrived at almost the same time, as her flight was delayed, but Ellen wouldn’t  arrive until later. I met Carla in the luggage area in order to hitch a ride in the Town Car she had ordered.

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From across the luggage area I decided this nice man looked just like my sister. I waved frantically but thankfully he didn’t see me.

Once checked in to our suburban Chicago hotel, Carla and I ventured out with Uber to a restaurant that unbeknownst to me was about a thirty minute drive from the hotel. The ambience was nice at the restaurant but we were on a deadline – to return to the hotel with food and wine for Ellen, whose plane did not get in until after 9:00. So we Ubered thirty minutes back to the hotel, stashed the gyros we brought back for her and scouted out where we could purchase some wine.

Friends, our best choice was the 7-11 across the parking lot. We elbowed our way through the parked semi cabs to view their tiny wine collection. Oh well. Beggars couldn’t be choosers. With our wine bottles lined up on the counter I asked where I could find a corkscrew. “We don’t sell them,” the clerk replied without a shred of compassion. Who ever heard of a 7-11 that didn’t sell a corkscrew? Sighing,  I slid my husband’s  credit card into the chip reader for our $37.oo purchase. “Declined,” replied our clerk with even less compassion then before. Perhaps lots of people get declined at the 7-11 at 10:00 P.M. buying $37.00 worth of wine they can’t open. But I had another card, so all was not lost.

Back we went with our brown paper bags back to the hotel. Once inside I texted Ellen this urgent message, “Please say you have a corkscrew.” She did not, but promised to ask HER Uber driver to stop somewhere. And if needed, she offered her knitting needles as possible cork screwing implements.

At last our third party arrived, tired, hungry, and thirsty. We girls had a lovely reunion in our pajamas until I as the oldest had to go to bed.

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Wine in a paper cup, in our pajamas at the hotel. That’s living!

The next morning we reviewed our largely non existent plans. All we knew was that we were to see our cousin Mike and his son, our second cousin Kevin, and Mike’s friend Leo at 5:00 P.M. We were on our own in Aurora, Illinois for the day. Since the three of us had never traveled together we also had no ready templates for what we might all want to do together in absence of museums and book stores. I already was loving the fact that everything we did together was a first.

In case you’re wondering, Aurora massage parlors are pretty booked on a Saturday. But after some searching I was able to get an appointment at noon for three at a foot massage place.

At the appointed time we Ubered away to the location. The suite number didn’t seem right, but it said “foot massage” right on the sign. We three went in and were instructed to wait. So we waited and waited through several “People” magazines.Eventually the masseuse came in and asked, “Um… who did you speak with when you made your appointment?” I was assuring the lady that I did have an appointment when I noticed a voice mail on my phone, from the very nice man who had taken my call that morning…at another foot massage place down the street. Uh oh. Could we come now? We could not, because he was booked, but he gave us another appointment at 3:00 P.M.

What to do now? We didn’t want to eat a big lunch before our massage, so we called yet another Uber to the Savers Thrift Store several miles away. And oh. Nirvana. It is large. It is neat. It is clean, and only slightly overpriced.

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Ellen quickly made friends in the ladies’ shirt section

 

I do wish I had more pictures, but ladies, we scored at that store. Ellen found Carla some darling orange platform sandals. Carla found herself a Burberry clutch. Ellen and I threw so many clothes in our basket that we actually had to try them on, while Carla, the willowy one, made her selections outside the dressing room.Finally we were getting too hungry to shop any more. In the checkout line Carla suddenly realized ALL THESE sweaters were NEVER going to fit in her suitcase. But the bargains…. “Oh well,” she announced decisively. “I’ll just get another bag. I need one anyway.”

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Uh, yeah. She’d need another bag alright. Sweaters take up a lot of room.

So. We had about thirty minutes until our massage. We were hungry and one of us needed a suitcase. And in the same way that things had been falling into place for us, we went next door to a Marshall’s where we could buy snacks AND another suitcase. Plus the suitcase was on clearance.

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Here’s what to do when you just can’t give up those sweaters!

In our next Uber car, we told the driver we were going not quite as far as he thought, because we had gone to the wrong foot massage place earlier. We all gulped down a few snacks as our driver searched for the place. When we pulled up I realized that earlier in the day I told our driver to take up to the “Happy Foot”. Oops. I saw now that our appointment had been the the “Lucky Foot.” No wonder our driver had let us out at the wrong place!

But finally we were at the right place at the right time. We were led to a room where we each had a rejuvenating foot massage, a necessity after vigorous thrifting on a cement floor. This was a first for Carla and Ellen, and another fun memory for us to share.

After the massage we waited outside in the sun for the Uber driver, who could not at first find us.

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At  least they were relaxed after their massage.

And we surely couldn’t give him any directions. That put us a little late getting back to the hotel but we were soon ready to go to Mike’s. Except when I called for Uber it wouldn’t take any of my payment methods. Sigh. After re and re entering my information it finally let me schedule a ride. I’m sure it was because I had called Uber about 6 times in 24 hours, and it tripped some kind of security alert.

Finally we arrived at Mike’s. We were greeted by our second cousin and ushered into the living room where Mike sat up in a chair. Each of us hugged him before introducing ourselves to and hugging, Kevin, and Mike’s dear friend of 16 years, Leo. Immediately I felt enveloped in such a sense of love and peace in Mike’s home.

Mike solved the problem of how to converse with a terminally ill person by asking us each what we thought of hospice care.  The three sisters’ responses led to our experiences before the death of our parents, and onto memories ranging from hilarious to disastrous situations. We were all aware of the rifts that may have existed among our respective parents, but they didn’t matter now. We were all at peace with those who had gone before us.

We each gave an accounting of our lives and families. I already knew about my sisters’ families, but knew little of Mike’s adult life. He had married young and moved to Chicago, where he divorced and then remarried and had a son. Along the way Mike obtained a higher education even though he dealt with many emotional stressors. The second marriage did not last, but Mike made his relationship with Kevin his highest priority. As I watched them together, I knew that Mike considered the raising of Kevin to be his greatest achievement in life. Now Mike was stricken with the fatal disease which would take him before he would see his son fully launched as an adult.

Our cousin Kevin had never met us and knew few details of his Memphis family. I had brought a few photos with me, including a picture of our grandparents right after they married. Kevin pored over the pictures with interest, and was entertained by our stories of “the good old days ” in the South. We grieved that this young man  would soon lose his father, and loved him for the way he loved his Dad.

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The four cousins with Mike and Leo.

At Mike’s suggestion we ordered Chinese and ate it in the living room, continuing our easy conversation. After so many years it was the most natural thing in the world for us all to spend an evening together. We left soon after dinner because Mike was clearly tiring.

No words could describe how meaningful it was to all three of us to be able to see Mike one last time, and to do it together. We hoped our visit would bring Mike the enjoyment of sharing mutual memories. There is something quite special about being in the company of people who have shared memories, who remember sitting at the children’s table on holidays, who  liked to buy a Buried Treasure from the popsicle man, who  liked to slide on their bottom down our grandmother’s wooden staircase.

The next morning the three sisters went their separate ways. Back in Memphis I messaged Mike to ask his permission to write a blog post about our visit. He readily gave it.

Five days after our visit Mike passed away peacefully in his home.

We did not expect to reconnect with Mike but then to lose him so quickly. We did not expect his illness to allow three sisters to realign their adult relationships in such a meaningful way. We did not expect him to remind us that the power of love must never be underestimated, especially in times of great tribulation. When we drop our defenses and stop trying to manufacture differences amongst ourselves, we are more similar than we are different, and all that remains is love.

It’s what the world needs now.

Seize The Day

This is the third or fourth post I’ve written, but not published, trying to illustrate some aspect of my life that is NOT about being a grandmother. For one thing, I can only describe that giant comfy chenille pastel cloud of a world so many times, and for another, there IS some aspect of my life that not about grandmothering, right? Right, I ask you? In other words, if a woman becomes a grandmother out in the woods and drops all her other creative pursuits, can anyone hear it?

And while I ponder this oh so first world dilemma of mine, life is moving on. Mornings which used to be for quiet reflection are now for face timing with an exuberant two year old.  Days off, when I used to fool around with my camera and cook a couple of new recipes at once are now for going to The Children’s Museum with another little darling. The Memphis darling’s parents are both in school so naturally when I return from the Children’s Museum I do a couple of loads of laundry, not mine, and do a few dishes, also not mine. And pick up 4,000 toys. Also not mine.

Bliss. Except that on the inside there’s been this slow inner burn  to paint, to get my hands in something and become gloriously lost and found in the process. With the wisdom that comes with being almost sixty years old I realized I would have to do something different or nothing different would happen. It felt similar of course to my years of raising children, during which I clumsily, erratically and guiltily tried to steal moments for myself while at the same time wondering why and how all these other mothers seemed so serene and content. Or why their children would agree to quietly color for hours while their Mommy painted or sewed. Sigh.

Without further ado I made plans to paint. First I needed some inspiration. For that I chose to visit The Dixon Gallery two weeks ago with some friends. We wanted to see the exhibit Fold by local artist  Mary Jo Karimnia. This artists’s work is largely in fabrics and beads, juxtaposing domestic arts with that of costumes, largely influenced by her work in Bolivia.  Surely Ms.Karimnia’s work

Summer 2016-3.jpg would have something to say to a grandmother, who while scraping dried oatmeal off her travertine floor, longs to experiment with extravagant color.

I was not disappointed, except when telling myself I could probably never afford any of her work. To make it easier on myself I relied just on my phone for a few snaps.

 

Ah, the shiny beads. Ah, the lovely stitches, the printed fabric. I think we all kept our hands behind our backs like second graders, lest we run our hands all over the work in a state of sensory bliss. I nearly swooned with a combination of adulation and regret that I did not own any of her work. Because we all need to be able to admire these in the privacy of our own homes.

Upon leaving that exhibit we went to the other current exhibit, Henri Guérard and the Phenomenon of the Artist’s Fan in France, 1875 –1900.  During these years, Japanese art and decor were very popular in France. Artists painted on actual fans but also on fan shaped paper.

Having seen beaded finery in the first exhibit and artful fans in the second, we felt obliged to model some ourselves.

I know what you’re thinking: they were born too late. It’s true. I can really rock a white wig.

No visit to the Dixon is complete without a stroll through the lovely grounds.

On this day, in addition the blooming seasonal flowers, there was an exhibit of cotton plants. Our male companion grew up on a farm, so we two city girls were able to learn a bit about the cultivation of cotton from him. The pink bud in the pictures above is actually cotton. Who knew?

My mind swirled with colorful images as I left the museum on Sunday. On Monday morning I ran up the stairs in my pajamas, clutching my first cup of coffee, ready to seize the day. Before long I was making marks on an old canvas, thinking of orange flowers, blue beads, and golden shiny things. Then came a familiar trilling ring. It was time for my daily face time with Cameron and Micah.

 

Angling my laptop so that they could see, I went right on painting. I pretended I had my own painting show, which allowed me to entertain Micah the whole time his Mommy was preparing  his breakfast. You just never know what you will see when you call your Mimi first thing in the morning.

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Micah watched intently, but I’m not sure he knew what to make of my show. But no matter. After our phone call I mucked around a little more in the paint, and decided that was enough for the day. I was so pleased to get to scratch the ” HAVE TO PAINT” itch, and even more pleased that I didn’t have to paint all day long in order to have a pleasurable experience. As I washed my paint brushes and put them  away, I marveled that it was still only 10:00 A.M. There would be lots of time to accomplish other things. “See?” I said to myself. “I’m a grandmother, but not ONLY a grandmother.”

And just then my phone rang. It was Lily’s Dad. “Mom, Lily’s school called me to come get her. She has pink eye. Can you keep her after I take her to the Doctor? I really need to do some school work.”

“Certainly. I’ll be right there!”

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Mimi and Lily holding hands on the porch swing.

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!

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