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.

Right For The Job

Mom, what did you used to do?

Used to do about what, I asked.

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

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

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

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

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What did I know about raising children? Nothing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Micah leaves no door unopened.

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

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

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

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I can’t say every day was a picnic.

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

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You just do what you have to do.

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And go with the flow.

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

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Parenting instructions were not very clear!

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

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Mommy and Daddy get ready to leave!

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

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

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

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

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

1983-10

 

Green Acres

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

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

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

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

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

Evening at Shale Lake Winery

Evening at Shale Lake Winery

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

With his

With his “practice” birthday cake

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Playing the piano after his bath

Playing the piano after his bath

On the swing with Mommy

On the swing with Mommy

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

The old farmhouse which was later converted to a barn.

The old farmhouse which was later converted to a barn.

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

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

In the combine!

In the combine!

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

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

Baby birds

Baby birds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Museums In Progress

There she was, approaching my gate in the Atlanta airport, a stylish vision, decked out in a turquoise top, carrying a pumpkin colored purse, wearing red shoes and lugging a heavy purple carryon. She was on her way to Europe for the first time, and neutral was nowhere in her color scheme. One could say she was an exhibit of a colorful, exuberant traveler. Finally, after much planning and scheming, my sister Ellen was going to accompany me to Amsterdam.

Two intrepid travelers

Two intrepid travelers

Because my husband has business in Amsterdam, I have been fortunate enough to accompany him to that lovely city many times. Amsterdam May 2015-58Typically we travel there on a Friday, arrive Saturday and have the weekend to explore before he goes to work Monday through Wednesday. I have never had any trouble amusing myself while he worked, but I often thought how wonderful it would be to show someone around the city, someone who would love it as much as I did. Someone like my sister.Amsterdam May 2015-3

We had no reservations about whether we would travel well together,  meaning we knew we would not interfere with one another’s reading, nor would either of suggest tacky tourist activities.  Ellen did later voice a secret fear that I might rush her through the museums, as I had been to them before. Although to me museums are there to be visited over and over again, I also secretly feared I might experience a feeling of let down if I did not also find something to do that was new to me. I decided to take my role as a tour guide one day at a time, and adjust our plans as needed so that we both felt satisfied.

And lo, with a sidekick to amuse me while my husband worked, all became new in Amsterdam. To my delight, every single place I took my sister had changed to some degree since last I went. What bliss  it was to spend my days with someone who “museums” the way I do. I would call my museum style slow and careful, yet humane, meaning that I read everything I want to read but I don’t overwhelm myself. I’m happy to immerse myself in exhibits and lose all track of time, but I’m not compulsive about seeing everything the museum may have on offer.

In five days we girls museumed ourselves through the Anne Frank House, The Dutch Resistance Museum, the Amsterdam Museum, The Church of Our Lord In The Attic, The Van Gogh Museum, The Stejdelik, and the Rijksmuseum.

The Rijksmuseum. Don't even try to see it in one day. Even with the audio tour, you'll get lost.

The Rijksmuseum. Don’t even try to see it in one day. Even with the audio tour, you’ll get lost.

The Stedeljik had a lovely Matisse exhibit.

The Stedelijk had a lovely Matisse exhibit.

We were fortunate enough to avoid long lines at the Anne Frank House, as we went late in the day, after being the last people out of the Amsterdam Museum.

She took her time in the museum.

She took her time in the museum.

My fears of feeling bored or let down proved groundless, as did Ellen’s fears of being rushed. I was just as riveted by the exhibits as she was. Here we were, two ladies who try to live meaningful lives, reading about how others had spent theirs. Our daytime hours were spent touring carefully curated rooms, and our evenings were spent  gloriously debriefing. Over dinner we would pose question after question to one another about the city’s history and its development, for each of us is endlessly interested in the daily lives of others. Our questions really had no answers, but we just loved to share  ideas.

Deep, philosophical discussions after a day at the museums.

Deep, philosophical discussions after a day at the museums.

Of all we discussed what we kept coming back to was the value of self expression.  Again and again we had seen and read about examples of how ordinary people dealt with extraordinary conditions using what they could, never knowing how their works would one day inspire others. Some, wrote, some painted, some made needlework,some designed fashions, some composed music, but no matter the medium, they all used art to try to make meaning out of their lives. We marveled at how creativity was used to resist tyranny, to celebrate life, to save lives, or simply to endure.

Protesting Hitler and The Third Reich

Protesting Hitler and The Third Reich

A journal of the Occupation

A journal of the Occupation

A church built in an attic...that's creative!

A church built in an attic…that’s creative!

Sewing in an Indonesian prisoner of war camp.

Sewing in an Indonesian prisoner of war camp.

And of course, Van Gogh had his struggles.

And of course, Van Gogh had his struggles.

And sometimes it's just fun to make things!

And sometimes it’s just fun to make things!

Most of us will never have articles from our lives on display behind a glass case at a museum, but what if we knew they were going to be? What creation of mine would I donate as representative of the way I have lived my life? What would I write on the little placard beside my exhibit about how writing this, or painting that, or capturing an image  with a camera helped me deal with problems unique to my time of life?

I am sure that my sister and I would qualify for some sort of nerd exhibit, in that we spent most of our waking hours poring over artifacts inside museums, while outside the most liberal city in the world was vibrating with life.

Plus, my sister was the only bare legged woman in Amsterdam, a museum worthy contribution.

Plus, my sister was the only bare legged woman in Amsterdam, a museum worthy contribution.

But aren’t we all, as we make our way through life, cataloguing and curating our own little museums, filled with our own memories and hopefully, our creative efforts? In my own collection of life memories, I am so pleased to be able to add my experiences with my  sister, the colorful traveler, in Amsterdam, to see the city through her eyes, to revisit old haunts, and to enjoy being together.  Luckily, my museum is open at all hours, and I have a lifetime membership.

It's always beautiful, and always thought provoking.

It’s always beautiful, and always thought provoking.

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!