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

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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.

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.

november december 2015-6

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.

1982-13

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.

1985.08

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.

1983-01

You just do what you have to do.

1989-05

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.

1992-08

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.

untitled-381

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?

untitled-387

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

 

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

farm 2015-4

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

A Balanced Grandmother

New projects just thrill me. Or, to be perfectly honest, the moment when I open the energy spigot for a new project and feel that divine surge of dopamine… that’s a lovely moment. My most recent energy filled  pursuits have been meeting Grandchild Number One and Grandchild Number Two. True, I was not directly involved in their creation, but I was very involved in preparing my own heart and mind for their arrival. And in giving, um…unsolicited advice.

Go ahead. Ask me all your parenting questions!

Go ahead. Ask me all your parenting questions!

During this beautiful “birth season”, naturally, I drifted away from some of my usual pastimes, because let’s face it: nothing  can top the birth of a precious new baby. For a time I devoted all my creative energy to helping the new parents adjust, and in trying to get myself designated as chief baby soother. A perfect day would begin with my daily face time with Grandchild Number One, during which I could “babysit” while my daughter left the room to fix her coffee. Pay no attention to my neck.

Go brew your coffee; I've got you covered!

Go brew your coffee; I’ve got you covered!

Then I would put on my work clothes, pack my computer and other home making accoutrements I might require, and zoom to my son’s house to help take care of the new parents and Grandchild Number Two. After I had helped with the baby and dinner I drove home tired but gratified, ready to relax with a library book.

You can go home , Emmy. My parents know what they're doing!

You can go home , Emmy. My parents know what they’re doing!

In the last couple of weeks, however, the frenetic new-baby vibe has quieted down. Everyone seems healthy, settled and happy. As my hands-on grandmother time has subsided, I have found myself hopeful that I would find my way back to knitting, painting, writing, and the other glorious hobbies that help keep me balanced.

I hoped, but instead of taking action I observed, watched and waited. Yes, there was just a smidge of anxiety that made me think I should do something to MAKE something happen, but I resisted. And  just last week I found myself up in my newly  cleaned out craft room, checking  to see if my sewing machine even works. It does work. And it has fuchsia thread in it.  I can’t remember what it was I ever intended to sew, but that will come. Another day I made a foray into my long unused painting corner, my copy of Brave Intuitive Painting open beside me, just making marks on paper with paint. lillian aprilOn a walk around the lake by my house I snapped a picture of a crane surrounded by turtles.lillian april-290I’m sprouting. And the babies and parents are doing fine.

And guess what???  While I am integrating the grandchildren in with the creativity, It is RAINING GRANDCHILDREN AROUND HERE!!! We just got word that Grandchild Number Three should arrive this fall.  Then all three of my children will be parents. That’s balance along with a definite dopamine thrill.lillian april-306

I hadn’t thought of this before, but it is creative just to decide what kind of grandmother to be. It’s a dream come true for a free spirit. I can put in some Auntie Mame  and throw in some Maya Angelou right along with some dashes of my own mother and grandmothers. Meaning I’ll be a character, an utterly unique recipe.  Meaning my grandchildren will all share  a grandmother who loves to nurture and spoil them but still manages to plant some flowers, take some pictures,  try on hats in the thrift stores, turn out a pair of socks, or just in general make a mess. I wouldn’t want these children to have to endure a calm, sedate grandparent. That would be completely out of balance!

Excused Absences – Part Two: The Royalty Pay A Visit

In the Fall of 2014 I learned that I was to be honored by a royal visit. No, not Prince Harry and Princess Catherine; they were already here last May for a wedding. This time the  royal personage involved was none other than my grandson, Prince Micah, making his first visit to Memphis, accompanied by  his royal attendants and parents,  Lady Cameron and  Sir Eric.

Since they would not be bringing a full accoutrement of Court members, I feared I would have to scramble around for some ladies in waiting, squires and the like.  But as soon as word of their visit got out, I was  fairly besieged with offers for royal duty. In fact, I feared we would have a surfeit of hangers on at the Memphis Court. In the end however, since in the South we would rather have too much of a thing than not enough, all who offered were given tasks to perform. And now, according to Prince Micah’s decree, the following pictures are to be shared with all  his subjects, as he was unable to grant an audience to all. Micah iun Memphis-5

Immediately upon arrival the Prince suffered a bout of very pink cheeks, brought about by the Arctic air. Someone forgot to order balmy temperatures.Micah iun Memphis-2

Luckily, heads did not roll. Here, Lady Cameron allows him to gnaw on a blanket.Micah iun Memphis-10

The diminutive Prince took quickly to allowing others to wait upon him. Here, the Matron Emmy receives a welcome opportunity.Micah iun Memphis-12 Early the first evening of the visit, two more matronly Ladies in Waiting arrived: Great Aunts Lady Ann and Lady Mare. They were suitably impressed with the Prince’s advanced growling and drooling skills.

State visits occurred on Saturday and Sunday with young Prince Ollie, approximately eight months of age,  who made the trip over from Arkansas with his attendants. Ladies Ann and Mare were able to serve both royal households. No pictures of the state visits are available at the moment, but Prince Micah was deemed the more bellicose of the two young rulers.

By Sunday evening, freezing rain and sleet covered the Memphis area. The frigid temperatures  caused  Prince Micah’s Court to be held largely in front of the fireplace. At this point, and I do lower my voice here, the two major female Court attendants began a  daring task which was distinctly unrelated to the Prince  – that of cleaning out an entire craft room. Lady Cameron felt that going through her high school detritus DURING A ROYAL VISIT was worth the risk. I bowed to her judgment.Micah iun Memphis-24

The entire Court tacitly withheld  knowledge of the craft room project from the minor monarch, fearing his wrath. Lady Cameron knew from experience that her young highness would nix such a project here just as he would at home. There were close calls, yes, but the swift interventions of the Jester Grandaddy and Sir Eric prevented certain disaster.Micah iun Memphis-11 Micah iun Memphis-14 I don’t believe the Prince noticed anything amiss,

I look normal, don't I?

I look normal, don’t I?

but by Tuesday he was plagued with a runny nose which may have diverted his attention. Upstairs the cleaning out moved apace, with hefty bag after hefty age of trash lined up in the hall. Downstairs the menfolk labored unsuccessfully to wipe their charge’s nose. As the Prince protested such treatment , suddenly we heard    – DING DONG!

And the next installment of Courtiers arrived – Sir Eric’s parents, who had driven through the ice and snow all the way from Illinois just to be able to see their grandson, the Prince.Micah iun Memphis-17

Lady Cameron consults with Sir Eric's Dad.

Lady Cameron consults with Sir Eric’s Dad, no doubt while Lady Annette rocked the Prince.

We were all glad for the influx of fresh attendants who knew more songs and silly games and who were willing to spend their days on the floor in front of the fireplace. I was mostly upstairs in knitting needle hell, for the project, once begun, could not be abandoned, and with new Court members on hand , my services would not be missed for the nonce.Micah iun Memphis-25

Through the week either the temperature or frozen precipitation kept the young Master indoors. Efforts were made to keep the Prince’s routine  unchanged from that of his California home. The Prince’s expectation is that his work continue unimpeded, no matter his location.Micah iun Memphis-9 Just when the Illinois contingent had to depart, Great Aunt Lady Ellen appeared upon the scene, and after a brief introduction to our local Princess Lillian, Micah iun Memphis-28was eager to participate in Court life and intrigue. Since the craft room had been the only intrigue, we made do with a sociological experiment about whether a cardboard box can rightfully be considered a throne.Micah iun Memphis-29 Too soon it was Saturday, and the last full day of the royal visit. The weather had improved enough for the Prince to hold an impromptu audience, which greatly cheered the throngs who had been denied a viewing.Micah iun Memphis-32 The Court members struggled to complete the rest of the scheduled events. First, there was the royal photo shoot, which had to be held indoors. Four attendants were required for the grueling session.Micah iun Memphis-34 And there was a last afternoon coffee, served with cookies, at which two more Court ladies, Great Aunt Lady Carla and Lady Alexis, and a fellow royal, Princess Cee Austin were able to pay Court to the Prince.Micah iun Memphis-35Micah iun Memphis-36Micah iun Memphis-26 The last night of the visit was rather glum, for every single member of the Court was sad and plumb worn out. This writer, for example, was unable to move from her own bed after 8:00 P.M. Sometime in the early morning the Prince and his small contingent were conveyed to the airport from which they returned to California.

We have had no negative feedback from the visit, so we must conclude that his Highness was pleased with the level of service that can be provided by a minimum of eleven volunteer attendants. I wonder if Prince Harry and Princess Catherine had such a well functioning temporary Court for their Memphis visit?

Excused Absences, Part One

Last time I wrote I alluded to big changes happening in my life. I mentioned that I was downsizing my practice in order to devote more time to my own creativity, and to being  a more hands on  grandmother. I know what you asked yourself: Why does she have to do this NOW???lillian-8

Because LILLIAN!!!! That’s why!!!

In the midst of preparing to be an out of town grandmother, I received the  unexpected but thrilling news  from my “baby”, Nick, and his girlfriend Heather, that early in 2015 I was also to become an in-town  grandmother.! As soon as my head began to spin more slowly atop my neck, I began to ask myself the questions that have no answers. They were deep questions indeed. For example, “WHAT??? This son of mine, this man/boy who still has his mail sent to our house is going to be a father? What’s to become of us all? ” And “What if he insists on naming the child after an NFL football player, how will I cope?”  You know, the types of questions one asks one’s self thirty thousand times in the middle of the night.

Him? A Dad?

Him? A Dad?

Thirty thousand  unanswered questions later, my mind was able to focus on more practical matters. Maybe I would have no say in what the child would be named, but I could certainly make myself available to be helpful. And if I played my cards right, maybe I would get to do some of the things for THIS new Mama that my Mother, an in town grandmother, got to do for me.( And which I promptly took for granted.) Of course my own Mother felt she had license to just barge right in and do things, but since I would be a paternal grandmother, I knew I would have to earn my spot at the table. I knew I would have to use all my considerable subtleness, lest I be declared a nuisance.

What were my parents having for dinner after my Mother helped me all day long? I must admit it never crossed my mind.

What were my parents having for dinner after my Mother helped me all day long? I must admit it never crossed my mind.

Meanwhile, as I mentally ran in circles, Heather, the new Mama, ran circles around me, taking care of herself, preparing for the baby, working and going to school. I cannot say enough good about Heather. Her strength and integrity remind me of why it is that women run this world. We’re just better at it. I am  grateful that Heather  will be the model for Lillian in so many important ways.

My sweet Heather, on the right, with her sister, five days before the baby was born.

My sweet Heather, on the right, with her sister, five days before the baby was born.

And what fun Heather has let me have! As her pregnancy neared the end, she let me take her to some of her Doctor’s appointments and then out to lunch, just as my Mother used to do for me, and just as I would have loved to be able to do for my own daughter. The day before she went in labor we went to about 5 stores getting whatever baby items they still needed, and then to eat authentic Mexican food. Sure enough, she went in labor the next morning, and guess who they called? ME ME ME ME ME!!!!!! And guess who ran a red light with impunity on the way to hospital? ME ME ME ME!!!!!!

I got to be there for most of the labor!

I got to be there for most of the labor!

And I was out in the peanut gallery when she was born! Heather’s family arrived from out of town later that day to join in the celebration.

Yep. My baby's a Daddy!

Yep. My baby’s a Daddy!

Grandaddy with his new sweetheart.

Grandaddy with his new sweetheart.

Since the baby has been born I have been off of work so that I can go to my son’s house almost every day to help. I envisioned  many after- baby scenarios, mostly involving sleep deprived parents and screaming babies,  but none with an easy baby who sleeps all the time, because I never had one of those. Miss Lillian, however, is thus far an easy and happily breast fed baby, so I haven’t been needed as much as I thought.

Lillian in the blanket I barely finished before she was born.

Lillian in the blanket I barely finished before she was born.

But nursing Mamas need to eat, don’t they? And Heather has allowed me free reign in the kitchen. I love to shoo her off for a nap, and then because the baby is so easy, I can whip the parents up something nourishing for dinner. Part of the fun is the challenge of working in someone else’s kitchen, especially your son’s former bachelor kitchen, where there is nary a pot holder to be found. I scurry around their kitchen, making a big mess and muttering delightedly , a la Sally Field at the Oscars, “They need me! They NEED ME!”

Soon Heather’s family will be back to marvel over how big Lillian has grown. Naturally I plan to (cough) gracefully step aside and let them have their share of Grandparent Crack. I’m a reasonable person.

Bread rising on a cloth diaper.

Bread rising on a cloth diaper.

Using the kitchen sink as a countertop to mash potatoes for shepherd's pie

Using the kitchen sink as a countertop to mash potatoes for shepherd’s pie Also I noticed that day that my camera smelled like an onion. It was worth it.

That’s about it for today. If you’ve wondered where I have been, now you know. And if you need me, you know where I’ll be. Hopefully I can get around to catching up on all of YOUR blog posts that I’ve missed this past month. Meanwhile, tonight’s menu is chicken parmesan with orzo and sautéed zucchini and tomatoes. I’d better get on it!

Story Security

My parents and all of my aunts and uncles have now passed away, and I am now the senior  generation of my family.  Instead of looking to my elders for information, I am now the one who has the knowledge about the olden days, of how we lived without electronics and instant gratification. While I am still on this earth I hope I tell or write down everything I know for the benefit of future generations.

Because I know how it feels to be curious about the stories of my forebears, to know that no matter how desperately I  about long to hear  about their lives I will likely never know more than I do now. To wonder why some relatives moved from Missouri to Arkansas, or who sewed the ruffled dress worn in a black and white photo, or even the circumstances on the day a picture was taken, is normal I believe. Knowing our stories makes us feel more  connected to those who came before us and worked  through many hardships to make a decent life. Stories make us feel secure.

Recently a friend of mine who has an interest in genealogy started a family tree for me on ancestry.com.  I wasn’t sure if the family tree  would lead to anything I didn’t already know, but at least I would have some things recorded for my children. Imagine my surprise when my friend received an email from a cousin on my Father’s side! I remembered meeting her, Sherry B., once at my grandmother’s house long ago. ( It was  so long ago that girls were wearing baby doll bathing suits, and Sherry’s grandmother, my Auntie Vera, was trying to sew a row pf lace across the top of Sherry’s bathing suit because she thought the neckline too low.)

We always knew more about my mother’s side of the family than my Father’s, because my mother’s family all lived here, while my Father’s was from Arkansas. We knew that our  Father became an only child when his sister Betty Jo, aged five, died of meningitis. Shortly after my parents married my Father’s father died at the age of 53 from a heart attack, leaving only my grandmother and my Father in Memphis. My Father told us very little about his family or growing up years. I had a few pictures of my Father as a child, but the accompanying narratives died along with him.richardson (1 of 1)-5

When our cousin Sherry B. contacted me through ancestry.com, I was delighted to find she lived not too far away and was willing to come to Memphis to share any pictures or other information she had. Last Saturday my two Memphis siblings and I met Sherry B.  for lunch. We were all eager to share whatever snippets of information we knew about that side of the family. I mentioned that my Father used to have a notebook that had belonged to our great grandfather John M. Richardson.I had actually seen it but did not know what happened to it after my Father’s death.

“Wait a minute,” cried my brother John, who is named after the man. “I think I’ve seen that at my house!” And he raced off to get the book while the rest of us repaired to my house for decaf and further discussion.

Soon my brother arrived with the notebook, which was bulging with pictures of people we had never met. The notebook itself appeared to have been used by J.M. Richardson to record finances and work hours.

And to save beer recipes.

And to save beer recipes.

Every time a new picture was gingerly removed from the book and passed around, it was like Christmas morning. Thankfully my grandmother, or someone, had written on the backs of most of the pictures. That was a gift in itself.

John Michael Richardson

John Michael Richardson

Eventually the picture passing slowed, though it never quite stopped, for we were mesmerized by these people, these faces, these lives, but we were at last able to pool our respective information. As far as tracing back many generations, we were all stuck at a frustratingly recent place, that of our great  great grandfather John Michael Richison. We can find no evidence of his beginnings.

J. M. Richison died in the Civil War and his body was never found. His widow, Anna Doyle Richison, remarried to a man named Crow. We know nothing more about her except that she is buried in Ash Fork, Arizona.

Anna Doyle Richardson Crow

Anna Doyle Richardson Crow

My great grandfather Richison/Richardson fought in the “Indian Wars”richardson (1 of 1)-30 and married a divorcee named Hannah Dow. At some point in his life he changed the spelling of his last name; we do not know why.  In addition to Hannah’s daughter Irene, the couple had four more daughters: Rheba Vivian,

Rheba on the left, with my grandmother Blanche.

Rheba on the left, with my grandmother Blanche.

Vera, Tora,

Vera on the left, Tora on the right.

Vera on the left, Tora on the right.

and Blanche Anna, my grandmother.

My grandmother

My grandmother

Tora died at age ten.

A poignant entry in the notebook.

A poignant entry in the notebook.

J. M. Richison/Richardson  worked for the railroad,richardson (1 of 1)-31 but at some point the family moved by covered wagon to Ferndale, Arkansas, where Richison may have farmed crops or lumber.richardson (1 of 1)-8

The girls grew up. Rheba married and moved to California where her sons supposedly still live. Vera, Sherry B.’s grandmother,  married but divorced after having three children,one of whom died at the age of nine.

Vera in the front, early in her marriage.

Vera in the front, early in her marriage.

At some point  Vera, likely for financial reasons, sent her children out to work and board with area farmers. Vera worked as a nurse’s aide, became a Seventh Day Adventist, and never remarried.

Blanche graduated high school, married and had two children.

Blanche

Blanche

The death of her daughter Betty Jo cast a pall over her marriage. As an adult I once asked my Father where his sister was buried and he said he did not know.

Before Betty Jo's death

Before Betty Jo’s death

That broke my heart, to think of a five year old’s grave going untended through the years. My guess is that sad things were just not discussed.

We continued to share and muse as we perused the pictures from the book my brother realized he had had in a box for many years. I think each one of us learned some things we had not known before, but many questions remained unanswered. Why the name change from Richison to Richardson? Why the move from Missouri to Arkansas? Why did our forebears tell us so little while they were alive?

No, we don’t know those answers and likely never will. But at least we share the bond of looking and wondering right along with Sherry B. There is a kind of security in that.

Looking forward to our next visit!

Looking forward to our next visit!