“You’re As Safe As If You Were in God’s Back Pocket”

My grandmother, whom we all called “Ba,” was a magnet for animals of all kinds. The birds were her favorites; she kept them fed all through the hard winter months.

She and my grandfather lived in a house with a large meadow behind it, and for years she kept a large vegetable garden and several flower gardens. Many’s the time I saw birds fly around her head when she was gardening, and once I saw a doe lay its beautiful head on her shoulder.

One time a skunk got its head stuck in a glass peanut butter jar; it had been trying to lick the last bit of the peanut butter from of the bottom of the jar.

As it frantically bumped and bumbled around, Ba stepped out on the landing and said, ‘go to the stone wall, and knock the jar against the stones, and you’ll be free.’ Behold and lo, it did just that. It stopped to finish up the last of the peanut butter on the bottom piece of glass, then ran off into the woods.

Once when a hawk flew into Ba’s shed and got caught in there, she walked in and tried to move the basket that had fallen on it.

The hawk screeched at her, and she said, “oh, stop your noise; you’re as safe as if you were in God’s back pocket.”

She moved the basket, and off flew the hawk, uninjured except perhaps for his pride. That was a saying she often used when dealing with birds or animals. It was as if they could understand her, because they calmed down, and let her help them.

I like to think that in some ways I take after Ba. I too now feed birds, squirrels, chipmunks, skunks, stray cats, and lately, a big woodchuck whom we call “Fat Bottom Charlie.”

Just the other night the Crankee Yankee found that a baby skunk had gotten into the temporary enclosure he made in the driveway to hold the snowblower, lawnmower, tools, etc. We could hear the poor thing bawling in there, trying to find his way out.

So the Crankee Yankee opened the door back a few inches, and we placed a bowl of kibble in front of it to entice the baby out. A few minutes later, I checked on him, and there he was; busily and happily crunching up kibble. When he had eaten his fill, he toddled off to the back yard to his home and family.

I think of Ba to this day; of her gentleness, kindness, generosity and love of all creatures. When I am worried or afraid about something, I hear that phrase in my head: “you’re as safe as if you were in God’s back pocket.”

Choosing a Dad

I chose my own dad. I was about four years old when Mom and Dad started dating. Mom had been divorced from my birth father for quite a while, and she and Dad met on their jobs in Bangor, ME. We had wonderful picnics and drives together as I went with them often on their dates. I especially remember picking buttercups with the man who would soon adopt me, and I remember asking him if I could call him “Daddy,” and he said yes.

I know that many adopted children boast about being “chosen” rather than simply being born to their mom and dad. I understand now that sometimes kids get to pick their parents, too. So I really did “adopt” my dad.

Biology doesn’t make a father; it is love, choice, commitment, kindness, understanding and decency that makes a father. The Hawaiians have got it right when they include and embrace non-family people into their own family; it is called “ohana,” or ‘extended and blended family, not just blood relatives.’ You don’t have to be related to love each other.

With the loss of my mom last December, Dad and I have become closer. We talk with each other every morning and afternoon, and I treasure each phone call. Twice a week, I or the Crankee Yankee and I go up to visit him and go out to lunch. Afterwards we chat for a while, and we do some little project or other that needs doing.

Dad tells me often to just take what I want from the house; I appreciate that very much. But the few things I will eventually take into our own home can wait. Right now I am happy that Dad is comfortable in his home with all that is familiar and has been for years.

He does very well each day, getting out in the morning to meet the world and see his friends and have coffee with them, go for the occasional walk, pick up some groceries and the mail; all things that make a pleasant routine. When I am not there with him, I picture him in his chair, reading and always striving to learn new things, keeping in touch with his old friends, and making a life for himself.

Of course we both miss Mom; she was our North Star, our point of light and a big presence in our lives, her friends’ lives, and in the community. Somewhere in previous posts I have mentioned what Dad told me shortly after she died: “If I had been the one to die first, she would of course have mourned and missed me. But she still would have gone out with her friends, stopped in three times a week for coffee with the gals at the local bookshop, gone out to lunch now and then; in short, she would have LIVED. And that’s what I intend to do: to LIVE.”

So, we two who used to be “we three” go on—loving and supporting each other, and

“*…talk of many things:

Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–

Of cabbages–and kings–

And why the sea is boiling hot–

And whether pigs have wings.”

So, from that long ago day of picking buttercups, there is this wonderful, precious and amazing connection between my dad and me. It enriches both our lives, and makes a soft cushion between missing Mom but being present ourselves.

Even at four years old, I was smart enough to choose the best dad for me.

*From “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” by Lewis Carroll, 1832 – 1898

 

Because…

Because you are you, and I am me

We may not always see eye to eye, you see.

So we put aside what is trivial

And accept all things convivial

That make our kinship such a fine thing,

Such a graceful and beautiful thing

That the angels must stare in wonderment and awe

At how we humans, full of  judgement and flaw,

Can finally come to joy and love

As pure and lovely as the wing of a dove—

Even though we may stumble and fall,

We still look for the best in us all.

 

 

The Definition of Beauty

I think that where we are born determines our concept of beauty. Being born in Maine, then living most of my life in New Hampshire, what I call “beautiful” is different than what someone born, say, in Oahu. For them, it might be the incredible rainbows, the heart-stopping  pink and gold sunsets over the sea, the black sand beaches, the fabulous exotic flowers, and limber palm trees swaying in the fragrant breezes that constitutes beauty for them.

For me, “beautiful” is the rocky coasts of Maine, the cold and angry Atlantic ocean with its icy gray-green waves, and the bits of jewel-like sea glass it grudging leaves on the shores. Or the incredible seasonal changes in New Hampshire; the tender green grass and daffodils in spring, the lush peonies and garden produce in summer and the little brown bats that fly at sunset, the striking colors of fall with its amber, orange, red and yellow leaves, and winter with its stark, austere white, gray and ice-blue beauty.

The beauty of where we come from maps our idea of beauty forever. I lived in various places in Texas for many years, and I grew to love the immense and lavish sunsets of fire-y golds, reds and pinks reaching from end to end of the larger-than-life sky, the surprising loveliness of the desert places, the chatter of mockingbirds at twilight, and the smell of pinyan on the wind. It was both strange and wonderful; breath-taking, in fact. But it wasn’t what I was used to at home. I’d think, ‘oh, this is lovely! But it’s not as lovely as home.’

No matter where we come from or where we go in life, I think we all have our own idea of beauty. This concept applies to people as well. When I was growing up, all the women in magazines had a certain look; that was the “template” most of us females strove to look like in those days. I shudder to think of all the hours I wasted in feeling that I didn’t fit in as a ‘beautiful’ person simply because I didn’t measure up to all those magazine women.

It wasn’t until I was off on my own and looking back at pictures of myself that I realized that I actually had been a good-looking person. Age and perspective will do that for you; you aren’t so hard and demanding on yourself. Plus you learn to recognize true beauty the older you get.

I love it that at this time we all seem to have undergone a sea change of what ‘beautiful’ can mean. Now we are seeing images of people who are unique—and beautiful. There are models with vitiligo, a skin condition in which white patches develop on the skin (this is what Michael Jackson had). Many women with this condition call themselves “Appaloosa women,” after the Appaloosa horses:

There are also male and female models of those who have lost limbs and now proudly show off their prosthetic legs and arms. They are a vision of not only beauty, but strength, courage and sacrifice. There are men and women of all colors, races, sizes and ages. The more exposed we are to these multitudes of unique beauty, the more enraptured we become with each other.

Think of those whom we see—look beyond the obvious. “Beautiful” can describe an old woman in a wheelchair. She has many wrinkles in her face and neck, her arms and hands are liberally sprinkled with dark spots, and some of her fingers are bent by arthritis. Her shrunken and bent body is a testament to hard work and sacrifice, and yet, her smile (with many missing teeth) is warm, welcoming and radiates happiness.

How many meals has she prepared and served in her lifetime? How many babies and children has she soothed in her arms? How many animals accepted her kindness and gentleness with them? How many hearts and minds has she touched in her long life? This is real beauty; a life lived well.

Seeing these images, we may learn to accept many varieties of beauty, and I am hopeful that all of us, young and old, can come to appreciate our own magnificence and beauty.

Our Home Security

I am the undisputed security officer of our house. I am the last one to go to bed, checking all door and window locks, turning the blinding outdoor light on at dusk, making sure that all documents with our names, addresses or private information is not visible through any window (alas, the Crankee Yankee thinks nothing of leaving his wallet in plain sight on his office table, which happens to be in front of a window).

I’ll admit I’m a little (well, a LOT) intense about home security. Each time there is a story on the news about a home invasion, I turn to the Crankee Yankee, saying, “see? SEE? This is why I do what I do!” And the Crankee Yankee, bless his patient heart, nods and smiles at me–he knows he can do nothing to soothe my security paranoia, so he just rolls with it.

Back when my best friend and I shared an apartment, I invented the simple but effective “security fork trap.” Here’s how it works: take a glass juice bottle, the kind with a small opening and a larger body, and fill it with metal forks, spoons, etc.; that is, anything that will make a loud noise. Then you put the lid back on, and balance the “trap” on its top so that it leans against the wall directly under the window. That way if someone jimmies the lock and steps in (did I mention that we lived on the ground floor?), they would knock over the trap, making a hell of a racket and waking us up.

The plan following that was that we would run out to finish off the would-be home invader with weapons of minor destruction; a rolling pin and a tiny souvenir baseball bat. After that, the plan was a little foggy, but at least we felt we would have an edge on the intruder. Somewhere in all of this someone was supposed to call the police, who would heroically show up in seconds to save us. Nothing of the sort ever happened; I guess any burglars just passed us by.

These days the Crankee Yankee and I are much too cheap to invest in a real security system. Plus both of us are at least computer-savvy enough to understand that anything with software can be hacked. It would just be our luck to be hacked AND pranked by an intruder with a sense of humor: “Oh, let’s not rob the place; let’s just drive them nuts instead!”

So, just in case, I still have a few fork traps in the basement. However, as we have four cats, you just know one of them will trip the trap just to mess with us.

“I’m a Cat”

I’m a cat, and I want to go out

Go out right now, or I’ll gripe and pout—

Once I’m out, I want to come back in

‘Cause I’m a cat, and you know I’ll always win.

I’ll win you over, because I’m so dang cute

You always forgive me, even when I pooped in your boot.

Because I’m a cat, I want food right now

Not at breakfast or dinner time, but when I meow

Which is pretty often, and I make those big kitty eyes

You know you can’t resist, ’cause I’m a cat, I tell no lies.

I like to lie where you can trip over me,

So you’ll feel bad and go get a treat for me,

It’s all part of a cat’s great plan

‘Cause I run the house, and you know it, Sir or Ma’am!

 

The Antidote is Gratitude

I write a lot about gratitude because the longer I live, the more grateful I am—-for all things. Of course there are things in my life I’m not wild about, but the good and wonderful things far outweigh them.

Good Things:

  • Although I lost my mom last December, I still have my wonderful dad
  • I have a loving and kind husband who can fix and build anything (and who is nice to animals)
  • I have two amazing granddaughters who, for some reason, think I’m wonderful
  • I have four healthy, happy and silly cats in my life
  • I have a close circle of dear friends
  • I live in a free country, thanks to the sacrifice of many
  • I have love and kindness in my life
  • I now have Medicare, the first insurance I’ve had in three years
  • I am inspired to make jewelry again. After Mom’s death, I couldn’t–but I can now
  • I have a roof over my head
  • I have electricity
  • I have air conditioning
  • I have clothes to wear
  • I have food and water
  • I have been given the talents of reading and writing
  • I have a good-running vehicle to get around in

Not So Good Things:

  • My right knee is worn out and hurts all the time, BUT I am able to get a knee replacement
  • I have osteo arthritis in my hips, BUT if necessary, I can get those replaced, too

It would be too easy to take the good things for granted; I can’t. I know that at any time all these things can be taken from me, but that’s not the point. The point is that I am living in gratitude and literally counting my blessings every day. I know that there are so many in the world who can’t count on food or water every day, who don’t have a safe roof over their heads, who live in subjugation and can’t do or say what they want to, who are in poverty, sorrow, sickness, loneliness, or fear. I wish I had the power to make everything better for everyone.

But since I can’t do that, I am repeating thanks every day. My prayers and hopes for those in want go out daily, and when I can give, I do. I can’t let all that is bad in the world discolor my own world. I think that, the more we hear bad news, the more angst and fear we take into our own lives. It’s just as bad as inhaling toxic fumes every day. It doesn’t help anyone, and will eventually make you so sick that you can’t do anything.

My belief is that we need to stay positive, keep remembering all that is good in our lives, and attempt to live in gratitude and hope. It doesn’t mean we are selfish and self-serving, it means we are saving our sanity in order to be able to give, and help when and where we can. It means that we keep our minds and hearts clear, therefore more willing to come up with ways to help.

Gratitude is the antidote to all that is bad in the world. I’ve said this before, but action follows energy. Put good energy out into the world, good energy comes back. Maybe we get to feeling so grateful that we can take a look at our lives and decide that we have room to take on a neighborhood project to help clean up an area of town. Maybe we can go through our things and donate what we can. Maybe we can make time to do some part-time teaching. Maybe we can visit a lonely neighbor now and then.

Maybe we can just make room in our lives to say ‘thank you’ more often.

 

 

Everyone Brings Something to the Table

As the Olympics are going on in Rio right now, I am amazed and awed by the dedication of all the athletes from all over the world. I can’t imagine the hours, days, weeks, months and years of training they have all had, and how focused they are. Imagine all the parties, dances, road trips, and so on they have missed because they chose to train each day to do their personal best. I think of the dedication of their parents and mentors, who have made it their business to nurture and encourage these talented young men and women.

Just imagine what it takes to decide to give all your time and effort to be the best you can be, all the training it takes to stay focused. Not to mention all the sacrifices that they and their families make daily in order for them to even qualify for the Olympics. It’s hard to wrap my mind around that kind of commitment. You’ve got to really love what you’re doing to put the rest of your life on hold to be an Olympian.

So what about the rest of us? What of our struggles, commitment, and the hard work we do? How about all those people who decide that they want to have children? Now there is a commitment that lasts until your last breath. I think it must be a lot like being an Olympian; sacrifice, training, strength of body, mind and soul; all of that plus the knowledge that each and every day you are responsible for lives other than your own.

What about our service men and women and their dedication to keeping our country safe? What about our police men and women? Our firefighters and teachers, our nurses, doctors, EMTs, and all medical people?  What about our veterinarians, who help keep our beloved pets healthy and strong? What about the farmers who provide food, the truckers who deliver it, the shopkeepers, the postal workers, the garage mechanics who figure out what’s wrong with our vehicles?

And there are so many more ‘valuable players’ out in the world that help make our lives better in so many ways. We may not all be Olympians, but we are all integral to this world we share together.

This makes me think: what do we each bring to the table each day? Of course not everything that we do is a life-changing event, but what we do does affect others around us. I remember a time when I was in one of the fabulous Gallerias in Dallas, TX. A friend and I had shopped our brains out, and we stopped to get a coffee. As we stood there with all our bags, purses, hot coffee and sore feet, we soon realized that all the tables in the food court were full. I was so tired I felt I could sit right down on that sticky floor and go to sleep. My friend nudged me, and I looked up to see a table of three women waving at us.

We walked over, and one of the women said, ‘here, take our table. We’re just leaving.’ We thanked them profusely, and we all smiled at each other. As my friend and I enjoyed getting off our feet and sipping our coffee, we marveled at how kind some people are. Once we finished our coffee and starting collecting our things, we noticed a small family looking around for a table, their arms loaded with a huge diaper bag, a squirming baby, a toddler, and two trays of food. We waved them over, saying, ‘we’re just leaving; please take our table.’

Every one of us has a place at the table we call Life. Everyone is here for a reason. Everyone of us has a purpose and a life mission (whether we realize it or not), and everyone of us is valuable. Getting through the many challenges and tests we have during our lifetimes can often be an Olympic effort. We may never wear a gold medal for our country, but I like to think that we may have one waiting for us on the other side, signifying that we did our best.