Posts Tagged ‘memories’

We all have our time machines. Some take us back, they’re called memories. Some take us forward, they’re called dreams. (Jeremy Irons, actor)

I’m at a book signing that is part of a small city pumpkin festival. Two memories, one from long ago and one from last year, hit me as I talk to a couple who stop at my table. The wife asks if there is violence in my middle-grade fantasy, The Curse Under the Freckles. The couple tell me their son is highly sensitive to anything brutal.

I give a short explanation of the story. Chase, an eleven-year old boy, was born with magical abilities. However, his mother knows about the curse and the dangerous side of the magical world. She never tells him. When Chase finally learns about it, he has lost every possible tool to break the curse. He must do it in three steps, but, no one gives him any idea what those steps will be.

They will not include the usual fight.

I say the book does not rely on blood and violence for entertainment. Then I realize a tragedy involves one of the main characters. In an early chapter. A death. Of course this is fantasy, and in a make-believe world a character can die and still be okay. The book has a happy and unexpected ending.

The young boy has been standing behind them. He moves between his parents, and shakes his head. I nod and smile. A silent way of saying I understand. In some ways he reminds me of me in an earlier century.

I recall the mobile library that came one day each week to my elementary school. In the primary grades I browsed for books with the least amount of conflict. I chose stories closest to utopia, places where taunting and meanness didn’t exist, where parents told their kids how wonderful they were. Most kids would have considered the books I read boring. Even then I knew I wanted safety. In real life and on the printed page.

Eventually, my tastes grew up. In fantasy, wild events could occur. I reveled in another world. It became my escape.

This young boy’s experience and mine are probably not even close. Yet, I suspect he has a keen sense of empathy that needs guidance. I am glad to see the concern his parents have for him. I watch as the family walks away, and I silently wish them the best, more than the best if that could be possible.

This is one time I am okay not to sell. To him. And yet I fully believe in the appropriateness of my story for kids. Real life sends difficulties to everyone. It doesn’t care how old the individual is. Chase’s losses would throw anyone, of any age. However, in fiction I can tailor the outcome, create a happy ending. In fantasy, possibilities extend beyond real life’s limitations. All the painful details don’t need to be elongated in a book for kids. Several young readers have requested a sequel. That book should be published next year, time yet unknown.

I remember another book signing when I came as customer, not vendor. A well-known children’s author told a girl the book was not suited for her age. I was impressed. To sell is not a writer’s sole mission. To entertain, to touch the heart, to make a reader’s life a little bit better, if only for that moment—these goals matter far more. Sometimes a story can plant answers, each word, chosen like seeds placed in fertile soil, lined across the page.

When the reader says, yes, I think like that, too, possibilities open. Perhaps healing then can begin…



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Life is like a landscape. You live in the midst of it, but can describe it only from the vantage point of distance. (Charles A. Lindbergh)

Strange how memories hit when they are least expected. I’m looking into the mirror at my 69-year-old self. I remember seeing the same younger face at least 53 years earlier. The scene is in my parents’ bedroom at my mother’s vanity. And I’m trying to turn my thin, curl-resistant hair into the bouffant my peers wear. I know nothing about regularly scheduled haircuts. That could help. But the money for such frivolities isn’t in the family budget.

However, the expression I recall is not mine but my mother’s, reflected behind me. She’s exasperated with her superficial daughter, focused on appearance. I admit the color is fine, a bright strawberry blond, but the gold never reaches below the follicles, into my scalp, into my being. I believe what my classmates have told me since first grade. I am the outsider. The kid with names that come with a taunt.

Mom complains that she has taught me to be a larger-minded girl, a Ten-Commandments person. I cut my rant short, but a deeper less-than has set in. I put down both the comb and my own sense of self as well.

My mother did what she believed was right. I don’t blame her. On an intellectual level she had a point. However, perspective needs to be discovered through example and experience, not imposed.

Now I look into the mirror in my own bedroom. My hair is cut short to avoid a need to style. I no longer care about beauty. Don’t ask me about fashion; I don’t follow the trends. And I don’t apologize for my wrinkles. They carry experience. Some of that experience continues to be incredible. Some of it cracked me more than I want to admit. Some of what-I-carry-from-the-past involved others’ hurts. And I couldn’t always help.

But the holes are what create the beauty in lace, the negative space in art, the places that force a person to recognize need. The cracks are where the light shines through. And I’m not sure I am sorry about the difficult times. They taught me to look into the eyes of another person and see more similarities than differences.

Moreover, I had good friends along the way. I meet with some of them every week—others less often. But I know I am not alone. Not an outcast. The notion is an illusion.

I have learned to rewrite the script and speak for a mother who didn’t know what to say, to ask questions to get to the real issues. “Yes, I know this is important to you now. However, this is the gift I see in this moment…”

Then, perhaps, any mirror could reflect more than an image that appears backwards, and permit possibilities. I can’t say I know where they will go. I don’t. Today’s landscape shows no more than a few clouds along the horizon, never within reach, always changing. Always, always changing.

beauty of the broken

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The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking. (Albert Einstein)

The world as we have created it is also a process of our caring, social awareness, and empathy. It cannot be changed without changing our approach to one another, without cutting out all biases and prejudices, seeing with fresh vision.

Wayne, the son of my long-time friend, Gladys, now deceased, shared this story. It fits into the attitudes I share weekly in this space:

“The coolest thing happened tonight. A friend was treating me to dinner at Frisch’s for helping with some mulch. I noticed a table with some special needs adults and case workers right in front of our table. I made eye contact and smiled at the people facing my way and went back to eating dinner. Suddenly, there was an arm around my shoulder and it was one of the adults with Down syndrome from that table. He was dressed in a Cincinnati Reds outfit.

“‘I love you,’ he said giving me a big hug. And I told him that I loved him, too. He then did the same to the young man sitting across from me. This gesture was an example of unconditional LOVE. I felt as if I were in the presence of an angel. I am profoundly touched and grateful.”

Several of Wayne’s friends mentioned a fact those who know special-needs folk realize; their good works aren’t hindered by overworked egos. In my April 8 blog, Scot: It Doesn’t Take Much To Make Me Happy, I introduced a loving adult with Down syndrome. Scot doesn’t let formality get in the way of giving either. He hugs and he is good at it.

Not many people are able to express affection without some reservation. Actually without a lot of reservation. All living creatures deserve respect. And yet I can’t imagine petting a pit bull without a proper introduction. True, I’m allergic to the dander in dog fur. But, this strong breed has an undeserved reputation. And yes, both ego and fear form a larger barrier around me than I would like to admit. I can be shy around people I’ve never met as well.

Wayne is a talented musician. But he was not taught to act as if he were better than everyone else because of his gifts. His mother Gladys also showed me what unconditional love means. At one time I wasn’t sure that I was capable of much of anything. Gladys accepted me as I was—and then helped me to view my life differently. She overcame enormous struggles in her life. Dire Poverty. The death of her mother when Gladys was only six. Gladys lived in the present and saw the good in each day and in each person.

I suspect the gentleman who approached Wayne sensed the honesty in his smile. Wayne wasn’t patronizing the group at the next table. His gesture came from a sunshine-heart.

And perhaps the difference between the special-needs-huggers and the reserved normal folk is spiritual. Just maybe the word needs should be deleted and special highlighted. These people erase the non-essentials: What could happen if?… I don’t know you… This is socially unacceptable… All the artificial contingencies disappear and pure gift remains.

Perhaps, if the special folk decided to take the time to consider the sit-straight, don’t-look-anyone-in-the-eye rest of the world, they might feel sorry for the so-called normal sector.

But I doubt that they would look down on anyone.

if disabled people were head

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It is a wonderful seasoning of all enjoyments to think of those we love. (Molière)

In my last blog, “Bye Bye, Old Stove; Hello Possibilities,” I took a picture of a turkey in the early stage of baking. Most of that turkey has been sliced and frozen; my husband and I don’t require Sumo-wrestler portions. However, that bird will probably be only a memory in a matter of hours. I expected four guests for dinner. That number has now increased to eight.

Jay has made a quick run to the grocery store for more fresh fruit and vegetables. We plan to feast and celebrate the beauty of family.

As Jay and I peel and slice potatoes into my largest pot I think about my guests and gather positive thoughts about each individual—what could also be considered prayer. This attitude helps because my stove may be new, but it has limited space, not enough burners for everything I want to prepare.

I actually pause and consider options when panic would be my usual response. (Ask Jay. He has seen me in full-blown impending-disaster mode. I believe in positive attitude, but need to work at it, just like everyone else does.) However, this appliance and I are getting to know one another as friends. Stove is young with modern possibilities. My experience is old and varied. I’ve made enough mistakes to know what doesn’t work. Together we should be able to work out the logistics with the help of the microwave and the warm setting on the oven.

Then chaos reigns when I try to maneuver pans, bowls, plates, and hot stuff into a dining area the size of the average department-store dressing room stall. Granddaughter Kate helps—in between reading pages of her current book and attending to cousin Ella, sister Rebe, and new friend Dakota.

“What more do you want me to do, Grandma?” she asks. “After all, you do so much for us.”

I savor this moment as I watch her decide what color plastic forks the younger kids would like. This time isn’t really about food anyway. Mashed potatoes and even homemade brownies are only part of this day. In the future will anyone remember the menu anyway? Probably not. I’m hoping they will recall the laughter and the fun.

And that gives me the energy to provide the setting, in my job as chief cook and Grandmother.

Kate tells me that almost-four-year-old Dakota said that he was going to drive a garbage truck when he grows up. But it will hold marshmallows. Dakota is a very neat child, so I suspect this will be a very clean disposal vehicle. Perhaps this young man will help to clean-up a very nasty world and fill it with softness. He just doesn’t know it yet. I can’t see inside anyone’s mind, but his smile shows high-beam possibilities.

After dinner my daughter-in-law Sarah clears the table and fits the leftovers into suitable containers. I watch her efficiency and think about her amazing ability with mechanical devices. She had my new Cuisinart assembled in seconds, and she showed me how to use it in terms I could understand. Given my lack of understanding, that is quite a feat. And she did it without making me appear amazingly inadequate. Anything that needs assembly has never been my forte.

This house is really too small to hold three children and seven adults. But WE did it. I’m tempted to relay all of my family’s virtues here. Now. But, an overview is sufficient. More becomes like a grocery list.

This moment is a gift…And I celebrate it.

doing the little things Words of Wisdom

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You’re going to come across people in your life who will say all the right words at all the right times. But in the end, it’s always their actions, not words, that matter. (Nicholas Sparks)

Snow was predicted for today, but I expected a token inch or so. Our street, finally plowed yesterday afternoon, is now hidden. In the semi-darkness of early morning the white bitterness seems to explode its message; winter has won this battle. When the phone rings before eight in the morning I know what I will hear before I answer. The call comes from two states away, where it isn’t seven in the morning yet. My sister-in-law has not called to chat.

My mother-in-law has left her physical body in Midwestern winter and joined a higher, temperature-free dimension. As I look outside again I realize that like the February snow, Mary’s death was inevitable. But, I thought my spirit would be better prepared. Winter will end. This goodbye is final. At least from a limited five-senses point of view.

The first bird I see at the bird feeder is a female cardinal. The cardinal is a symbol of a visitor from the next dimension. Next, two more cardinals arrive. They don’t stay long. They feed and then fly into our blue spruce.

I think about the transience of life’s experience and that thought leads into disconnected memories:

I see my mother-in-law’s move from a more affluent neighborhood to a less wealthy one, not because she needs to do it, but because she sees a mission there, a house closer to her church. My vision follows the many people Mary invites into her home, the folk who stay for a while and then leave, changed somehow because of her welcoming…

Next my memory revisits the day when my younger son has tied a towel around his neck as a cape. He is two days shy of his third birthday and he is playing superman. He tries to fly off a chair, but his fantasy doesn’t transfer into reality. He has sustained a concussion. I don’t have a car. My mother-in-law drops what she is doing and takes me and superman junior to the hospital. Then she waits until after Steve is treated before bringing us home. Mary and Son-number-two are buddies. They have been since he was an infant…

Mary and Son-number-two’s daughter are also buddies. Nana is now declining. Ella pretends to be a bear. Nana pretends to be frightened. The game continues.

And so does today’s snow—along with a deep and penetrating cold. No, I could not ask Mary to stay on this earth with a body that is no longer able to contain her incredible spirit. She needed to leave it. The human Methuselah-model has not yet been designed. I said goodbye to Mary the last time I saw her, and I meant it. However…there is always a however. My generous attitude was aimed toward her, not me.

Another cardinal stops for a bite to eat before taking off.

Okay, how do I rephrase goodbye? See you in the next dimension, Mary. I don’t know when. But in the meantime, you have an enormous number of people asking about you. So long. Peace, beautiful lady!

cardinal, symbol of visiting past loved one

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Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important. (Stephen Covey)

 My husband, younger son, youngest granddaughter and I have traveled across two states to visit my 94-year-old mother-in-law. Daylight has barely replaced darkness as Ella climbs onto the foot of her great grandmother’s bed. Nana is awake; she greets her, and then closes her eyes again. Ella leans toward her. “Wake up!”

Great grandmother shows no sign of hearing. She sleeps most of the time. After Nana rouses she complains that the little girl was something of a pain. However, she doesn’t seem to hold a grudge. The two adore one another. I have no doubt that Ella sees into the older woman’s spirit and recognizes a need for a laugh or two before she moves into another dimension, whenever that time arrives. Nana was in hospice care, and then improved. She is one tenacious lady.

I have heard that people in the last stages of life appear to be unresponsive, but they hear every sound. I decide to be quieter as I work in the kitchen, bang fewer pots as I dry them, raise my voice only when absolutely necessary—or when I share something uplifting about Nana’s life.

I feel the spirit of late Midwestern autumn during this visit. The wind blows the last of the tenacious don’t-wanna-let-go-yet leaves from one yard to another. Most deciduous trees are bare, or sparse. The red and yellow patterns have already turned to a crisp brown, ready to be crushed underfoot, dissolving along with the experiences of past seasons. Winter is inevitable. Nothing lasts forever.

In Nana’s room Ella pretends to be a bear, growling as Nana responds with feigned fear. “Save me! I’m so scared.”

Wild Woman has replaced Wild Man, my name for her daddy as he was growing up. And we celebrate both past and present, even as time moves on an inevitable course. I wonder if time were unlimited how much of it I would savor, how much I would waste. At age twenty-five my youth seemed invincible. My head knew clocks don’t travel in reverse except in fantasy. But the days until my next vacation seemed as uncountable as slender grains of rice. Old age lived in the next century, an era beginning in the year 2000—as far away as Jupiter or Mars. Now that year has passed. I’m not sure when I will embrace the term old. But I know each moment is important and must be used well.

So I tell my mother-in-law that I chose to spend more time with my grandchildren because she had chosen to spend time with my children. She showed me how beautiful and strong the bond with a young person could become.

Ella smiles and reaches for me. We will be sitting next to one another during the drive back across two states. I couldn’t ask for a better traveling companion.

decorate life with colors

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To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else. (Emily Dickinson)

The image of my handsome cousin flashes through my mind, but refuses to remain steady. I haven’t seen him since my father’s funeral. Now I prepare for his—my much younger cousin’s—departure at the age of 58; he had a stroke.

His sister calls and asks me to sing the “Ave Maria.” I’ve never done it, so I listen to YouTube versions in an infinite loop. I think about bowing out and asking my pro sister to do it. She’s been singing Schubert’s beautiful hymn since she was fifteen-years-old. However, after writing “From Stick Figures to Portraits,” I don’t want to give up on the dream I’ve always had of singing it in a church. Moreover, I have too many great cousin memories.

My husband fell on the ice. He will be fine after a cortisone shot and physical therapy, but my workload has increased. So has my stress load. My voice sounds like a cheap, scratched, overplayed record from the early 1950s. Worse, sometimes it doesn’t come out at all. Hearing a cat fight would be a better substitute. I have two days to find balance and honor my cousin.

Finally, the solution comes to me through the inspiration of some divine source, obviously undeserved. Ask your sister to join you, Terry. Her presence alone will be a comfort. You can sing the first verse. Then together you can create a crescendo.

My sister graciously agrees. We tell our cousin when we see her at the funeral home. Her response: Her brother always loved the “Ave Maria.” He would say, “Wouldn’t it be great to hear Claire and Terry sing it?” (She hadn’t called Claire because she didn’t have her phone number; my sister lives an hour’s drive out of town.)

Somehow my workload feels like a privilege instead of a punishment. The metaphorical scratch in the record heals, and my learning is all a matter of attitude.

The choir director begins the intro. My sister’s experience and assurance mysteriously transfer into me. Okay, younger cousin. This is for you. Say hello to Mom and Dad for me. See you later.

dove and rainbow PIQ

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Sisters function as safety nets in a chaotic world simply by being there for each other.   (Carol Saline)

When I was sixteen-years-old my mother gave our family the gift I always had wanted—a sister. Sure, I had great brothers. But I was an all-girl girl, and I didn’t understand the male species.

My brothers would engage in rough play with Dad until they cried. I declared outrage, but seconds later my brothers would be at it again with a grin on their faces I interpreted as lunacy. I soon learned that it made no sense to try to protect them.

I remember telling Mom I wanted an older sister. She never seemed to understand that even at the age of six I’d figured out that was impossible, although I suppose secretly I wanted someone else to guide me through the make-believe and the real world with wisdom. Life didn’t always make sense, and grownups definitely belonged to another galaxy. They knew all the rules and expected kids to know them, too. Most of the time I learned rules by breaking them first.

Of course by the time my sister was born my dolls and childhood belonged to a long-ago past. As a teenager I played the role of built-in-babysitter and big sister.

Claire’s birthday is Monday. She hasn’t been a baby in a long time. She works as a pastor’s wife, which means she has a schedule that requires a wall-sized calendar. She has a married son and a daughter-in-law now.  I could call her my little sister, but she isn’t tall. However, I’ve shrunk, and she is quick to point that out.

I don’t mind. Our relationship has nothing to do with height. I don’t recall when the bond between us developed into something that transcended the difference in our ages. Once, when my sons were still at home, Claire and I got into a deep discussion about our lives. We were standing outside my house by the barbecue grill, white with flaming charcoal. Our mother could see us from the back window. She came outside to see if we were all right. We had shared how we really felt in a way only sisters can understand. Of course we told Mom everything was just great. We told the truth even though we had spoken of sadness and fear as well as hope: we had each other and I knew we always would.

Happy Birthday, Sis! Thanks for being you.

from Positive Energy

best kind of people from Positive Energy

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Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending. (Maria Robinson)

Our family waits for the arrival of my husband’s mother and sister. They live six-hours west of us where nine inches of snow is possible. Jay’s mother, Mary, is 93-years-old. One of her daughters is driving her into town for a funeral. Mary’s sister has died and she is the last living person in her family.

As soon as the travelers arrive I let my sons know. We are concerned; Mary can barely stand. Yet, her heart remains rooted strong in family.

Part of Mary’s agenda includes plans for her own funeral. I’m familiar with the process, although I have never done it with the honoree  present. Mary’s other daughter has material handy for us to view. Whenever my mother-in-law shows emotion I know we are on the right track. When she says, “How do I know? I won’t be there,” I realize the mechanics of planning may be present; however, heart isn’t. She adds that she doesn’t want a eulogy that praises her; it should praise God. She also wants humor.

I suggest asking my older son, Greg, both a stand-up comic and a man active in his church community. The conversation drifts into a discussion of his latest book, “Open Mike,” the tightness of his style. She grins, proud, and laughs with us. A suggestion is made to complete the outline. “So, who do you want to do your eulogy?” But I sense a return to how do I know? I won’t be there.

Let our list of whats, wheres, and whens be sufficient as we return to the moment, to life as it is. Now. More family members arrive, just what Mary needs as an extrovert’s extrovert.

I think about the struggle I’ve had in the past few months with a pesky virus that is only now beginning to subside, even though my soprano has been knocked out by a throat as dry as desert-baked sand. A little alto sneaks out occasionally, but it is weak and inconsistent.  I realize that this is nothing in comparison to the suffering many people experience. No one is invincible, although as a young person I certainly lived as if I were.

Somehow I expected to be in my twenties forever, slender without needing exercise and diet control. Possibilities lay ahead of me—but I rarely chose them. Tomorrow would always be there, or so I thought. Those days will never return. Nevertheless, this moment lives, ready to be seized.

In my last blog I mentioned how three words, consider the source, became valuable advice from my father. My mother-in-law showed me how rich grandparent bonding could become. Since I worked in hospital pharmacy my hours didn’t fit a Monday through Friday schedule. I was off Fridays and asked to watch my first granddaughter on that day even though my son and daughter-in-law already had child care. I have never regretted that choice.

In fact my gift has tripled. I now have three grandchildren. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t think about my granddaughters. Somehow even a Cheerio in the couch cushion isn’t the irritation it could be when I consider the source, a beautiful blonde four-year-old girl with a smile that could light the city.

I have no idea what legacy I will leave my sons and granddaughters, but I’m not sure the spiritual can be weighed anyway. I prefer to live this moment and build upon the next, with as much gratitude as I can manage. Today. Tomorrow isn’t promised.

more beginnings than endings PIQ

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The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been. (Madeleine L’Engle, 1918-2007) 

I made a big mistake when I told my two older grandchildren about the time my brothers climbed into the dollhouse my grandfather made for me. Since the house had been created for thumb-sized dolls, not little boys, the walls collapsed onto them.

Kate and Rebecca were horrified. Two giants had invaded precious pretend space and demolished it. Back then I probably saw the torn walls as slaughtered puppies. Now, I understand the viewpoint of my younger brothers, an exploration into uncharted territory. I really don’t think they planned destruction; it happened as a side-product of their exploration. Somehow, I expected my little girls to see with my adult point of view. They didn’t.

When Kate knew my youngest brother was coming to the house, she asked, “Is he one of the brothers who broke your doll house?”

“Uh, no, he was too little.”

I have a few weeks before my other brothers face my girls’ wrath—for a misdemeanor committed before computers, space travel, cell phones, and flat-screen television sets existed. Any pictures from that era would have been in black-and-white. They couldn’t have been instantly posted on Facebook.

Then again, my granddaughters may forget all about the long-ago dollhouse. Actually it’s likely. The holidays are filled with far more interesting opportunities. If the subject comes up I could ask if they ever made a mistake and then felt sorry about it later. The word, oops, appears early in a child’s vocabulary. I could mention again the story about the time my brothers and I wanted to play Indians in the basement when I was about four-or-five-years old. We needed a campfire. So I gathered some sticks from the front yard, placed them on the cement floor, and then lit them from the pilot on the hot-water heater. Fortunately, my mother had a good sense of smell.

“Did you get a spanking?” Kate asked.

“I don’t remember that part. But you can be pretty sure I did.” I certainly earned one.

The consequences of a fire in the basement didn’t occur to me at preschool age. I had planned to put it out. There was a faucet a few feet away, right next to the wringer washer. As an adult the thought of flames in the house strikes me with intense fear. I’ve apologized to my parents many times over the years.

Yet, somewhere deep inside me is that little adventurer who wondered what-would-happen-if? She learned to respect the parameters of reality, but appreciates the spunk of the kid with just a touch of mischief inside.

Yes, I loved that dollhouse my grandfather crafted for me. He was an incredible, gentle man. I loved my brothers even more. And, I still do.

save the kid in you

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