Best Uncle Ever

My favorite uncle, whom I have called “Unkie” all my life, is 89 today. Anyone who is lucky enough to have had an uncle to love and be loved by understands the gift of that relationship. He has been there for me literally since the day I was born, and has been a big part of my life ever since. Unkie, quite simply, is the perfect example of a decent, good man who has lived honestly and has been a blessing and joy to his family, friends and associates.

I remember from a very early age that he loathed spiders. Mom told me that, when they were growing up they often explored the woods nearby. He would make Mom walk ahead of him to break any possible webs along the way! Once when he was visiting us, he had just tucked me into bed with his regular bedtime admonition; “Ok, I’m putting you into your rocket ship to the moon. If it’s made of green cheese, bring me back a slice.”

As he stood up, we both noticed a big spider on the wall. Without hesitation, he took off one shoe and killed it. As young as I was, I understood how much he loved me–to face that big spider and protect me from it.

In his fifties, he got married for the first time to a wonderful woman named Dottie. She brought to the marriage three daughters, the youngest still in high school. For the first time, Unkie was a husband and father, and, as with everything else in his life, he embraced the change. He loved them all with all his heart, and stepped into his new roles with love and commitment.

Unkie was and is one of the few people I know who truly live their faith in God, and do their best to honor Him by living good and decent lives. This was never done in a showy or attention-getting manner; he is simply a good man and treats others the way he would liked to be treated.

Looking back on all the times spent together, it’s the stories and jokes I remember so well. A rather shy and retiring man, Unkie blooms when he is in a crowd. On all the bus trips he and Dottie took together, he would stand up and start telling jokes. His timing and delivery were dead-on, and he had every person literally rolling in the aisles.

One of my favorite jokes is about the nun and the airplane, which goes like this:

A young nun was traveling on an airplane for the first time in her life, and was both excited and nervous about it. She was worried that she would be late and miss her plane, so she made sure she got to the airport in plenty of time. The ticket agent kindly directed her to a comfortable waiting area where she could rest. As she sat there, she watched all the people go by and wondered where they were all going. Her gaze fell upon an old-fashioned scale that promised to tell a person’s weight and also tell their fortune.

She decided to try it. It cost a nickel, so she got on the scale, dropped in her nickel and got her correct weight and a little card with her fortune. The card read, “You are a nun. You are twenty-six years old, and you are flying to Chicago today.”

“Well!” she said to herself. “How did that machine know that?” But as she sat there, she thought, “Oh I know, there must several cards in there and one was bound to be about a nun.” Soon her curiosity got the best of her. She got up, dropped another nickel in the machine and received a card that said, “You are a nun. You are twenty-six years old, you are flying for the first time in your life, and you are going to play the violin.”

She was amazed at this, and thought to herself, “That can’t be right–I’ve never played any musical instrument!” She sat back down, and soon a man with a duffle bag and a violin case came by and asked her if she would mind watching his things while he went to the restaurant. She said she would.

As she sat there, she thought about her latest fortune, and looked at the violin case. She knew that the man would be in the restaurant for a while, and wondered if she really could play the violin. She decided to give it a try, and amazingly, she found she actually could play a nice little tune. Smiling to herself, she put the violin away. But by then she just had to try the machine again.

This time the card read, “You are a nun. You are twenty-six years old, and you are going to fart.” She thought indignantly, ‘I have NEVER done that in my life, and I’m certainly not going to do it now.” Still fuming, she walked back to her seat, and slipped on the edge of the rug. She fell to her hands and knees, and farted. Red-faced, she strode back to the machine, put in one more nickel, and received this card: “You are a nun. You are twenty-six years old, and you fiddled and farted around so long that you MISSED YOUR PLANE.”

But it isn’t just Unkie’s talent for telling jokes that makes him so special. It’s the kind of person he is, and how he treats the people around him. He has lived a life of love, generosity, kindness and goodness, and in his way, made the world a better place. He certainly has made my life better and I love him dearly.

 

 

 

My Dad is 90 Today

My amazing and incredible dad is 90 years old today. Now what do you think of when you think of age 90? A dried-up husk of a person who only goes out of the house to see the doctor? A doddering old guy with his pants hitched up to the middle of his chest? A tremor-y, frail and forgetful old man in a wheelchair? Dad is none of the above. He is one of the greatest men I know; someone with a rich past, a full and diverse present, and a gleaming future.

Last year when I wrote a post about him on his 89th birthday, I detailed many things I love about him and the many things he has taught me. This year I extoll the strength and character he has shown over the years; of being willing to change, to study, to grow, to learn, and from that learning; teach. From the time he married my mom when I was four, I’ve always felt that we were a single, solid and unshakeable unit of three. We three (and for years, his license plate read “WEE 3”) worked together to become a family that liked and loved each other. In fact, when I was in grade school and listened to tales of other kids’ parents fighting or shouting at each other, I didn’t know what to make of it. There was no fighting in our house, no threatening, no open warfare. In fact, I used to complain to my friends that my parents kissed too much!

My dad has worked hard not just in his work life but in his complete life. He tried hard to understand the parts of his life that had given him problems in the past, and made positive steps to fix them. When he found out that he had hereditary high cholesterol, he began to seek out and study ways to improve his lifestyle. His doctors felt he should go on medication; Dad started his own research on the subject. He sought out information not promoted by modern medicine, and began studying and practicing yoga and meditation. He searched out viable naturopathic remedies for high cholesterol as well as developing a health-promoting and anti-aging lifestyle. He changed his thinking about what makes us sick and what keeps us healthy. He discovered ways to change his negatives to positives by doing all these things, plus he keeps on studying to this day.

Over the years he has become a student of alternative medicine and has sought out life-changing information such as that found in the ground-breaking book, “The China Study,” by T. Colin Campbell, PhD and Thomas M. Campbell II. I highly recommend it myself as it reveals solid information about nutrition, diet, weight loss and long-term health. (Read it–it will literally change your life.) He also began reading Eckhard Tolle, who wrote “A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose,” and he also reads the great books of Deepak Chopra.

Dad espouses and lives by the Whole Food Plant-Based (WFPB) diet, and he and Mom enjoy a mostly vegetarian diet. They have seen their health increase in many ways, and find that on the whole they both feel great every day. Even the inevitable aches and pains we all have when we get older are much more manageable for them, thanks to their lifestyle. (Anther terrific book my dad gave me is  “Whole” by T. Colin Campbell, PhD and Howard Jacobson, Phd. It shows clearly and plainly how a WFPB diet can literally change your health from so-so to alive and vibrant. In fact, many so-called chronic conditions can be completely reversed by this method of healthy eating.)

To this day, Dad is always studying. My mom and I adore reading books by Robert Goolrich, Mary Kay Andrews, Elizabeth Berg, and so on; we read for entertainment. Dad reads to learn. His love of learning is neck-and-neck with his love of life. He is a person who lives and breathes fully each day. His studies, his daily walks, his bike-riding and skiing keep him mentally and physically fit, and he is both interesting and interested. Dad loves unconditionally, is a big hugger and is joyfully and enthusiastically alive every moment of every day.

As my own life changes to include and embrace my interests in Reiki, healing, metaphysical work and more focused writing, I begin to understand what really fuels and enriches a human being. Dad is one of the most fully alive and engaged people I know. He is not only a 90-year old man, but a 90-year old man who lives richly each day.

May all our lives, long or short, be as full and rich and glorious as my Dad’s. I love you, Dad, for who you are and how far you’ve come.

 

 

Fathers Who Truly Father

I’ve said it before; biology doesn’t make a father; fathering makes a father. Although technically my dad is my step-dad, he adopted me when he and my mom married in 1955. He was and is everything you could ask for in a father. He was there for every important (and even the not-so-important) events in my life. He has been my model of what a father is–a man who nurtures, loves, encourages and sets good examples for his child. If he told me once, he told me a thousand times to “be aware.” That is, be aware of what and who is around. Had I grown up in these high-tech times, I am sure he would have been one of those dads who said “Get your face out of that <cell phone, iPad, name-your-mobile-device here> and pay attention to the world around you!”

He would have also been dead set against the new cars that parallel-park for you, emit beeps and buzzers to warn you of people or objects behind the car, or another vehicle swerving too close to you, or one that brakes for you if you are so inattentive that you are not watching where you are going. He taught me how to drive responsively, to constantly be aware of everything around me and to keep distractions at a minimum. He always said that driving demands our absolute attention, and he was and is right. He felt that you had no business driving a car if you couldn’t change a tire, parallel-park, check the oil and maintain your vehicle responsibly.

My dad will be 90 this year, and he continues to be a model of good health, as well as keeping active and truly maintaining a sound mind in a sound body. He still skies every winter, and has a small following of friends young enough to be his grandchildren who enjoy skiing with him and learning from him. He keeps his mind active by reading and studying, meditating and keeping a willing spirit. His whole being is open to all things positive, healthy, joyous and good. He is an example of life well-lived and thoroughly enjoyed.

When we all were young; me as a child, and my then-young parents, we found our way together. We became a family of near equals; family business was openly discussed and often debated. I knew even as a child, that we were not rich by any means, and that money was to be carefully spent. I understood well the phrase “we can’t afford it,” and adjusted my wants accordingly. If there was something I felt I just had to have, then chores beyond the usual ones were offered to me as a way to buy what I wanted. I learned early on what it was like to work to earn money, and the great pleasure of buying something with my own hard-earned money. This also taught me to take good care of what I owned. It was a gift I will never forget.

Even if I wasn’t always too keen on doing regular house-hold chores (my least favorite being vacuuming the house every Wednesday), I knew from my parents that we each had responsibilities that benefited everyone. I understood that doing these things was what families do–everyone helps out.

One of the many things Dad made sure of was that I would grow up independent. He taught me many “boy” skills; how to handle a gun and shoot straight, how to change a tire, use a knife responsibly, build a good campfire and put it out safely, ride a bike, and so many other things. He didn’t want me to be the kind of girl/woman who had to have a man do everything for her. It couldn’t have been easy on him (or his patience) to deal with a whiny child who frankly did not want to learn these things; but I did understand the reason why. Because of his early and excellent training, I wish the same for my 3-year old granddaughter. She is fortunate to have a mom and dad who are actively involved in her life and are teaching her the same kind of life skills my dad taught me.

I know that my dad put his whole heart and soul into loving me and, along with my mother, raised me to be a responsible and good person. This is a gift beyond measure. When you positively affect a child’s life in the way he has affected mine, the legacy goes on and on. I now find myself saying things to my granddaughter that my dad said to me. I believe with all my heart that the change good men who are good fathers impress upon their children is priceless. It is also one that keeps on giving from generation to generation.

Dad, I love you, respect you, admire you and continue to learn from you. I wish the happiest of Fathers’ Days to you, my true father.

 

My Other Family – The Bedford Boomers

Who are the Bedford Boomers, you may ask? They are a devoted group of model railroad enthusiasts who, along with their spouses and families, make up a unique and special club. This is the organization that the Crankee Yankee (my husband) has belonged to for decades. Together they have traveled by train to many places, have put on many train shows to the delight of thousands of people over the years, and have shared their passion with other model train groups. The Crankee Yankee introduced me to the Bedford Boomers 12 twelve years ago when we got married. Without reservation, they put their collective arms around me and accepted me as one of their own.

Understand, I am not a model train hobbyist, but I love it that my husband is. This is the case with others in the Boomers, and they, like me, support their husbands and the group by doing any number of things; collecting tickets at the door for the shows, sending email schedules out for upcoming events, making sure that we are all aware of any issues with any of the members, and so on. Everyone helps as they can.

The annual picnic usually happens over the Memorial Day weekend, as it did this weekend. Although we have lost members through the years to distance, illness and death, the group still stands as an example of pure joy, acceptance and shared interests. Jokes and pictures are emailed nearly every week, and during the holidays we also get together to share food and laughter, catch up with each other and wish each other well for the coming year.

The Memorial Day picnic is a big event at our house; the Crankee Yankee stuffs our refrigerator with hot dogs, hamburgers, lamb, ribs and so on in preparation for the big day. I usually make a salad or two and cut up a big pan of vegetables to saute on the grill. The Crankee Yankee gets started on location early, and by the time everyone starts showing up, the entire neighborhood smells heavenly. Wonderful dishes appear as people arrive, such as homemade baked beans, macaroni and cheese, fabulous deviled eggs, salads of all kinds, more desserts than you can imagine, as well as mountains of chips and dips, pickles, etc.

Although we all come from different backgrounds, this is a group of people like no other. The unifying interest may be model trains, but we have become an *ohana of sorts. When we lose a member or a relative of a member, we all mourn that loss. When someone in the group has a new baby or grandbaby, it’s cause to celebrate. When someone is sick, we offer what we can do to help, and send on our prayers. As the old saying goes, when sorrow is shared, the pain is cut in half. When joy is shared, that joy is doubled.

These people have  become very dear to me, and I am proud beyond measure to be part of the Bedford Boomers family. Although we are different, we have so much in common, and have come to appreciate all our differences and similarities. Really, this is what life lived well looks like–diverse people who share one or two interests and who have become friends along the way. I myself am a very minor contributor, but my life is better for being part of the Boomers!

*Ohana is Hawaiian for any group of people who may not be blood-related, but are a self-chosen family.

In Praise of All Women Everywhere

As today is International Women’s Day, let’s take time to give thought to the many influential women in our lives. All the mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, daughters, step-daughters, aunts, sisters, nieces, friends, role models, and we women ourselves are part of the same glorious tapestry.

Of course we think of the “great” women such as Mother Teresa, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mary the mother of Jesus, all the women who achieved greatness and renown in the fields of medicine, teaching, science, politics, art and so on. But the women we know and learn from the best are the women in our family.

Take our moms, for example. My mother has been and is my best friend, teacher, guide, role model and the voice of reason. From the time I could walk, she taught me the skills I needed to become a responsible adult. She loved me, cared for me, helped me, listened to me, and guided me in all things I needed to live fully and independently. Growing up, I had chores to do, and if I didn’t do them to her satisfaction, I did them until they were done right. I didn’t much like it at the time, but I learned. By the time I was out of the house and on my own, I could do everything from hold down a job, pay my bills, maintain my car, take care of my health, cook, bake, iron, sew and keep my home clean.

Our mothers teach us life values by example. Moms show us how to give and receive love, understanding, compassion and kindness, and how to be honest and live our lives with enthusiasm, gratitude and joy. They instruct us in fair play, and make sure that we understand that each of our actions has a consequence; good or bad.  They show us courage and grace from the way that they handle adversity. We learn how to trust from our moms, and how to treat others. It was from my mom that I learned that I wasn’t the center of the universe, but part OF it. I learned from her that the fact that I had feelings meant that everyone around me had them, too. The life lesson? Treat others as you want to be treated.

Our mothers may not be famous or recognized in the world for ground-breaking achievements, but they achieve greatness to US from what they give, and continue to give, to our lives. Today, it being International Women’s Day, let’s reflect on our own moms. Would we be who we are today without their guiding hands and hearts?

Mothers and Daughters

We humans love for many reasons, and we may love people, animals, hobbies, activities and so on. We are capable of such great love that the angels themselves may envy us, and our love may be fractured into many glittering shards in order to share that love with many.

Today I think of the love between mothers and daughters; both the love that our mothers show us, and the love we show our mothers. The mother-daughter bond is so strong and so bright that it can both bind and blind us. The fierce love mothers have for daughters is apparent in ways that only mothers can show. Granted, mothers, like daughters, are not perfect. Often when we (as mothers and daughters) want to be soft and kind and encouraging, we can be hard, brutally honest and disparaging. As we are all created with free will and endless possibilities, the way we give and receive love will naturally be different according to the person.

The mother who continually nags the daughter may in her heart be saying, ‘I love you! I care about you! I worry about you! You are so important to me that I can’t let you do anything that hurts or endangers you!’ But what comes across to the daughter is, ‘I don’t like you the way you are; you are a disappointment to me.’ As old as we get, we daughters want and need our mothers’ love and approval.

Consequently, the daughter who constantly lashes out and says hurtful things to her mother, defies her and challenges her may be seeking attention in her own way. What appears to be a pushing-away may be a plea for closeness and reassurance.

I have never been a mother, but I was lucky enough to become a stepmother to two amazing, bright and incredible young women. Later on, I became a step-grandmother to the most wonderful, interesting and glorious granddaughter I could possibly imagine. The three of them are so closely woven into my heart that they all might as well be my own. Even my step-status makes me at once filled with love, fearful of anything happening to them, joy in their lives, happiness in just the sight of them and great (if unearned) pride in who they are.

One of the joys of my life is having lunch once a month with my two oldest and dearest friends. We all met in grade school, and went through high school together. We all grew up running in and out of each others’ houses, and knew each others’ parents well. My two friends and I have kept up communication when distance parted us, and we finally now live within an easy drive from each other. One of my friends (happily, she is also my sister-in-law) has her mom living at home with her and my brother-in-law. My own mom is living comfortably and happily with my dad (58 years together as of last December), and although she has slowed down some, she is pretty independent.

Sadly, my other dear friend lost her mom this week. Her mom lived a long life, and she, like my sister-in-law’s mom and moms of my school friends; were part of my growing-up. Slim, dark-haired and peppery, she was a real firecracker. One of the things she insisted on was that her children (my friend has three brothers, too) be polite and personable to all. And they were! They set the standard for good behavior for all of us, and we all tried to keep their good example. My friend’s mom was a positive influence on us all in that way.

We daughters have a soft place in our hearts for our moms, and they do for us. Whether the relationship is stormy or calm, the steady undercurrent of love is always there. The human heart is a vast space in which resides the love we have for those in our lives and those who have passed on. All those who have touched our lives deeply or lightly occupy a space where we can visit any time we like. There are few sure things in this life, but I know this for certain: the pain we feel for the loss will fade. The love remains forever bright, forever welcoming and forever joyous.

Wands and Wings

This Christmas the Crankee Yankee and I gave our 2.5 year old granddaughter, Ava, a bag of presents. Honestly, it wasn’t a big deal; a fairy tale book I had when I was 7, a Doc McStuffins puzzle set, some plastic elves and some Dollar Store stuff including a pair green gauze fairy wings and a light-up blue heart “magic wand.”

Ava loved the wand and wings, and the first thing she wanted to do was to fly–of course. There she stood, in her Christmas dress and pink tights, wings on her shoulders and wand at the ready. Her mother said, “Say the magic words to fly!”

Ava cried out, “Pixie dust–AWAAAAY!” And off she flew, powered by her dad’s arms, all around the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, the hallway and back into the living room. She screamed in delight all the way, waving her bright blue magic wand, and yelling, “I FWYING!!” You just can’t beat magic like that.

It’s taken me over six decades to realize that it isn’t so much the price of the gift you give, it’s what the gift means to the giftee. Thinking back over the Christmases past as I like to do this time of year, I remember some of the gifts I was given and how much they meant to me. For instance, the year my uncle gave me the fairy tale book I just passed on to Ava, I can still feel how those stories felt to me when I read them for the first time. The cover of the book was a deep, glossy emerald green, exactly the color of the plush moss in the meadow behind my grandparents’ house. The front cover had a red-haired, freckle-faced little pixie wearing a yellow flower as a hat, sitting on a mushroom, telling stories to prettily dressed children. I called it my Green Fairy Book, and read it over and over again.

Those stories took me far away to another place where magic lived, and I could expect anything from a wicked witch who enticed children into her delicious candy house to a wolf lying in a grandmother’s bed, waiting for Little Red Riding Hood. When I finished reading, I would put the book up for the day, feeling the enchantment of those moments slowly slip away—then I was back to my ordinary life. For a while, I would feel a little empty, missing that magic, but I knew it would be right back whenever I picked up the book again.

I wish for this magic for my incredible, amazing and utterly wonderful Ava. My hope is that Ava and all children may have all the skills they need to become good and wise adults, but still keep a corner in their hearts for wonder, joy and of course–magic.

My Mom is 82 Today

My amazing mother is 82 today.All through our years together, she has been my best friend, my confidant, my constant star. I know who I am because of her. She made sure that I knew that I am part of a long line of extraordinary women; strong, tough and independent . To this day, I can face any obstacle with the strength of all those women who came before me.

Mom married at 18 and had me when she was 19, and I always felt as if we grew up together. Mom claimed that she was still reading Dr. Spock as they wheeled her into the delivery room. Perhaps she didn’t feel that she was “officially” ready to be a mother, but what I remember is that she did just fine.

Mom always hugged and kissed me and told me how much she loved me. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up without love because I was given so much.

She made a scrapbook of black and white photos that I cherish to this day–she had written captions for all the pictures of me that were both funny and dear. Every little milestone was captured, and she even kept my first tooth. The baby book she kept was like a little novel about me, and from the time I could read, I read it over and over again.

Mom taught me everything that a person should know in life. She taught me how to wash a wool sweater without shrinking or stretching it, how to clean any surface until it shone, how to thread a needle, how to polish furniture, how to bake and cook (I balked at that one, but I now love cooking!), how to pickle, how to make preserves, how to iron, how to mend clothes, how to write letters and thank-you notes, how to answer the phone properly, how to sit like a lady, how to pray in church, how to dress well (she always looked like a model–and still does), how to make change, write a check and balance a checkbook, wrap a gift, how to care for my skin and apply makeup artfully, how to speak well and how to graciously accept a compliment. She also taught me how to respect others and myself.

When I was in grade school, she worked during what is now called ‘mothers’ hours’ as the local newspaper office so that she could be home for me when I came home from school. We had tea and talked about our day. I could ask her anything about anything. She always made time for me.

During the summer, Mom would often give me 50 cents and ask me to run down to our local bakery, the Yum Yum Shop, and buy four glazed doughnuts for breakfast. We would sit in bed, eating them and laughing. Also, for four magic weeks, she made it possible for me to go to camp, where I had the time of my life. I made new friends, learned crafts, camped out, told ghost stories at night, sang camp songs, went hiking and swimming, cooked over a fire, fished and paddled canoes.  It was so much fun, but as much as I loved being there, I loved coming home.

How well I remember those summer nights when she and I would go to shows at the Rochester Music Theatre! We drove home in the warm night, singing all the songs from the show, laughing again at the characters and telling each other what we liked best. My dad was a successful photographer and often attended overnight workshops, leaving the two of us to our own devices. We would stock up on deli food, and giggle together at how naughty we were, not eating a “proper” dinner.

By the time I moved out of the house to go to college, I knew how to take care of myself and my belongings. I knew how to function without her, which was the point of all that training. She was unfailingly strong, purposeful, loving, kind, firm and direct. I always knew she told me the truth. More than that, she and I both knew that the training never ends.

I was in my sophomore year of college when I fell in love. I was so focused on what I was sure was the true love of my life that I put him first instead of my courses. I began to skip classes and notices were sent to my parents. It wasn’t easy for them to pay my tuition, and getting these notices were a slap in the face to their sacrifice. I was called on the carpet and told in no uncertain terms that they could no longer afford to pay for school if I was going to fool around and not take it seriously. If I wanted to graduate, they said, it would now be up to me to pay for it.

That was hard to hear, and I know now how hard it was for them to lay down the law. I pulled myself together, got a waitressing job during the semesters and also waitressed during the summer. I managed to pay for my last two years of school, and the day I graduated I was proud to have made it. My parents did not bail me out; they challenged me to succeed. I learned later how badly they felt and were so tempted to help me, but they  knew that I would not learn what I needed to without this lesson. I have thanked them over and over again for being strong. It was a lesson I have never forgotten. Each time a new challenge comes into my life I hark back on that and know that I can pull through.

Mom became interested in genealogy and, with a distant cousin, began working on our family history. Bear in mind that this was well before the computer age–all research was done in libraries, telephoning relatives, hunting through graveyards to copy information from headstones, and traveling often to Fredericton, New Brunswick to speak with relatives and record their stories. She organized a huge reunion of relatives, some of whom had no idea that they had so many relatives. We found that we had relatives as far away as Alaska, and got to meet them.

She worked painstakingly to put together a fine book that featured not only photographs, history and stories, but a beautifully rendered genealogical chart done in her own calligraphy (another interest of hers). She self-published it, and now many copies reside in the homes of relatives near and far. She devoted herself to this labor of love until she felt she could go no farther. This book inspires me to this day, and I want to quote the epilogue she wrote with such love and care here:

“How I wish I could write a book” my grandmother would sigh wistfully as she concluded an evening of recollections about her early life in New Brunswick.

In the dusk of summer evenings and in the lamplight that softened winter nights, Nannie rocked in her chair and re-lived her life aloud. I was her frequent listener – often a willing one – sometimes bored, but like all children, encouraging the diversion to postpone bedtime.

“Nannie’s stories” imprinted my childhood with second-hand memories of people, places and events. Nannie’s life became almost as real to me as my own.

Was I with them as children when she and her brother tethered little field mice to sticks and pretended they were their cattle? Was I berrying with them when the moose chased them? Did I cry when her only sister died? Did I touch the silken fabric of her garnet wedding dress? (It was patterned with tiny rosebuds.) Did I feel the homesickness as a young bride far away from home, and the sadness of the loss of m firstborn child? Did my bones ache with fatigue after long days of cleaning,  washing and cooking for a family and a crew of hired men? Was it my laughter or hers that pealed at the antics of a neighbor or the comical expressions of a relative? Whose joy at births…whose sorrow at deaths?

Who really wrote this book?”

I am way beyond my college years now, and I still need my mom’s perspective, her good opinion, and advice. She is the first person with whom I want to share any news. Hers is the laugh I love the best, and hers is the voice I need to hear. Dad always says that the sound he loves best is the two of us laughing together.

I could spend years recounting the endless acts of pure love and kindness she has shown me, as well as generosity and love beyond measure. I can’t begin to recount the many ways she has given me the oft-said roots and wings that helped me grow and fly.

I have howled at her jokes, her sayings and her take on life in general. She had a tough growing up and was strong because of it. It is said that we chose the parents we need before we are born; they may not be the easiest but they give us exactly what we need to learn. I know that I have chosen well.

 

The Best Holiday Gift – Imagination!

Not long ago, I was playing with my granddaughter, Ava, and she found my turkey baster. For the rest of that day, it became a microphone, a bug eradicator, a musical instrument, a giggle stick, a light saber and a magic wand. I don’t think that any toy on the market today could have tickled her as much as that stupid turkey baster did. We sang, we played and we presented all the princesses in the room: “Princess MAMA!” “Princess PAPA!” “Princess GRAMPY!” “Princess LULU!” “Princess UNCLE DAVID!” And of course, “Princess AVA!”

Her “coloring book” is a plain notebook of lined paper, and Ava wouldn’t have it any other way. Each page shows her artwork: colored lines, circles, dots, arrows, cats, stars, triangles, squares and so on. I would outline a shape, and Ava would name it, then color it. (Good girl–she draws OUTSIDE the lines, too!)

Ava remains loyal to a stuffed dolly with a plastic face named “Baby.” Ave keeps her covered with her special blankie, a dish towel, and takes her everywhere. She enjoys her giant-sized blocks, a yard sale ride-on tractor, and the usual Mickey Mouse clutter. Like her mother, she is fond of snappy shoes, such as her sparkly pink sneakers. Just recently, her dad made a tent out of a blanket stretched over a chair and a table, and Ava thought that was beyond wonderful.

At Christmas, her parents have her bring gifts to everyone in the room. I think she likes that even more than her own presents. At age two and a half, Ava is already enjoying her own imagination. Her parents encourage this and play along with it. Every waking moment is teachable, and her parents waste no time in feeding that clever and active little brain.

A child with an active imagination, who is encouraged to use that imagination, is a positive power in the world. We don’t know what Ava will decide to do in life, but we do know that whatever she chooses, she will do it with intelligence, joy, love and imagination. Look out, World!

 

 

To Those Who Serve

People serve in many different ways. The courageous men and women who serve in all branches of the military deserve our thanks, care, compassion and respect.

There are those who also serve who do not wear a uniform or ship out to a hostile land. There are those, much less in the limelight, who serve with quiet dignity, integrity, diligence, love and personal sacrifice. They are the men and women who put their lives on hold to care for an aging family member; some even taking them into their own homes. This involves a sacrifice of personal space and liberty as they make room for one or more of their family who can no longer live on their own, or for their own reasons, do not want to be in a nursing home.

My brave and sweet sister-in-law is one of those unsung heroes. She and her husband lovingly and carefully moved her mother and all her belongings into their home, and have made a beautiful space for her with all her treasures around her. Although this isn’t always easy on any of them, they somehow make it work.

People like my sister-in-law inspire by their quiet grace and strength. It is hard to be a witness to the gradual and relentless decline of a loved one, especially a mother. Mothers embody the very meaning of strength, endurance, endless patience, sacrifice, and boundless love. The mother-daughter bond is like no other; there is an unspoken heart-to-heart connection that transcends time and distance.

So we women, as daughters, slowly evolve into mothers of our own mothers as time moves on. We learn to watch for potential dangers and pitfalls the way they once watched over us. To those of us who never had our own children, like my sister-in-law and me, this is a challenge like no other. How much to do, how much to say without offending or making our mothers feel like children. I know that my own heart hurts when I see my own strong, beautiful, fearless, witty, incredible and multi-talented mother sit down more often because of leg and foot pain. These days her energy is limited, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.

We daughters, watching covertly over our moms, also think of the day when we ourselves begin to falter and fail. We who do not have children wonder who will be our advocate and voice, and who will hold our hand when we are ready to leave this earth.

But that time for us is not yet. So strong and loving women like my sister-in-law spend their days listening for a cough, a step, a call for help. They stand by to lend a hand, prepare meals, comfort and support as needed. Women like these deserve our respect, admiration and support. There is an old hymn called “I Stand All Amazed” that I think of when I see my sister-in-law in action; I stand all amazed when I see what she does every day. I wonder if I will be as good, as kind, as giving and as loving as she is when it is my turn to care for my mom. I hope so.