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Friday, December 30, 2011

Run, Walk, Rest

Over Christmas I had the joy of visiting Kimberly and Mitch, my granddaughter and her husband, and their two children, Samantha (5) and Maxwell (2½). On an outing at an amusement park Samantha was content to hold my hand as we walked through the beehive of people on the move. Mitch carried her little brother much of the time but when he put Max down the child would run off into the crowds, dodging feet and baby strollers and getting out of sight fast. It was all I could do to keep my eye on him and hope that Mitch or one of the others would catch him before any danger crossed his path. The horror of news accounts of lost children drained the fun of the occasion until he was rescued. At the end of the day when we all settled down for dinner in a restaurant Max was asleep in his daddy’s arms. The little blond head lay loosely on Mitch’s chest. It was a rest for us all, a time to collect and share the pleasures and perils of the day.

How like life, I’m thinking. In early childhood we run to meet it with careless abandon, unaware of danger, eager for adventure. A little later we’re more apt to stick with the others we’re with, playing it safe and making it a shared experience. Then we all learn to take a rest, to enjoy the wider view, collect our thoughts, maybe take a short nap, review our map and go on.

Some never stop running through life. Theirs is a clinging to the wild side. Others walk deliberately, choosing carefully their way, but being open to better options. All, in the end, rest in slumber in order to recoup for the way ahead. Most of us learned about this in elementary school with the story of the race between the turtle and the hare. The hare was sure of his ability to beat the turtle but his careless confidence allowed him to rest too soon and the slow steady pace of the turtle brought him to the finish line first. 

Now that I’m older I have the luxury of slowing down. Still, I am, at heart and at times, like the youngster on the run. The adult who walks is more my style, however. I’m still going somewhere and I need to check my map more often, decide what I really believe in, what I have yet to accomplish and where I’d like to end up before that last rest stop comes along. I choose, yes, choose, to believe that last sleep will not be more than another nap. That’s why I’m looking toward my destination for the long run, the Home of all homes. Sometimes, when life seems really good, I think I’m already there!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas, 2011

I have a pretty artificial tree with lights already strung on it in a box under the bed but no, Katie wouldn't stand for that. "Oh, Grandma, there's an aura about a real tree. It smells so of Christmas, don't you agree?" She sees my string of tiny white lights and frowns. "Lights on our tree must not be white, Grandma. When all the other lamps are turned off it's dreamy to sit and gaze at the tree's colored lights. White lights just don't lend themselves to dreaminess. They're piercing. OK for downtown or the mall, but not for home."

Now it's done. Our place is small and the tree we picked is too, about three feet tall, but perfectly shaped and decorated with garlands of tinsel and bright shiny balls and ornaments that reek of older Christmases and loved ones who will be coming and others who won't. Some never. The joys and sorrows of Christmases past all come to life in the tree and, always, it is the most beautiful tree ever!

There. I can never contradict my 22 year old granddaughter. This may be her last Christmas here living with me since there's been serious talk of Katie renting a place of her own. I want this holiday to be memorable for her. She wants to learn how to make our traditional Norwegian Christmas eve supper, especially the lefse. If you grew up in Minnesota, as I did, you don't need to ask, what is lefse? It's a flat bread made with mashed potatoes, flour, butter and salt. Rolled thin, gently transferred to a hot dry skillet, turned at just the proper time, it comes out looking limp with little brown spots. Not so appetizing to look at but when you lather it with butter (and spread brown sugar on top, or not), you have only to roll it up and eat it like finger food in the left hand, with a fork in the right for the Norwegian meatballs, A spoon for capturing every drop of gravy, of course! I guarantee, you'll think this the food of Nordic gods!

Now a little music of the season, jingling of bells, music boxes, carolers, Wally and Nancy's new Christmas CD. Music helps to plow through the clean messiness of wrapping gifts in odd corners of the house, shortened days when nights come too early and daytimes too late. Cards with long letters so easily written on computers with brief hand-written notes at the ends. How long has it been since I've seen Liz Oakes? Fifty? No, sixty years! But we keep up our Christmas card correspondence and remember how we met as young Marine wives living in Quonset huts on the Mojave desert where our fighter pilot husbands practiced night flying and the lack of city lights made the Milky Way look like heaven is, indeed, a brilliantly well-populated universe in which to live out eternity.

There will be company coming for brunch the morning of the 24th. My brother, Danny and his Jane's daughter, Barbie, with her new hubby and daughter Erin. Maybe they'll join us for the party that night when all of us we'll pile into cars to go to my granddaughter, Kimberly and Mitch's house. "Wally Pop" and "Nanna," so well loved on Skype have come all the way from Virginia to see Kim and MItch and their two kiddies, Sammie and Max, first of the new generation. Uncle Jordan, loved by all, but especially by these two, will preside with his sister, Kim.

Kingston,  the latest and youngest to arrive via April and Jaime, will be there too with David and Susie, proud grandparents to the little King. Two more babies are still pocketed away in their mommy's tummies and due to come out when the days get longer and warmer. One, a boy child, for Jenny and Luis. He'll be there two with his loving parents. The other, a wee question mark so far, for Rosy and Gray, unable to be there in person, alas. Robin and Paul, whose mini-Christmas eve party came earlier so they could be with Paul's family up north. We'll miss them!

There will be a beehive of activities in the house of our gathering. Katie and Keegan will join the gang, and Auntie Erin, loaded with packages and fun, has flown down from San Francisco. Uncle Jeff and his new girl friend, loved and with us on these occasions. Dinner tables spread out with red and green and candles. Dinner, the once a year spread, then the grand openings, a delight to everyone, especially to see the faces of our recipients. Bright paper wrappings gone to the bin, some saved for next year, excitement and laughter, See's candies, of course, a crackling fire in the fireplace, and candles and music. Jigsaw puzzle groupies and mothers keeping track of who sent their babies a present and to whom they will need to write thank-you notes.

Christmas day will join the Christmases past too and New Year's Day still be on its way, will be another memory. Resolutions, hope, anticipation, and change. The one constant is change.

Tommy, my canary, has run out of songs. I know he and Freddy, the Gouldian finch in the adjacent cage, are ready to be covered up. It's so much cozier to know you're out of sight of people persons when you've tucked your head under your wing. Sleeping should be a secure and private thing. I get bleary-eyed writing this blog, teary-eyed remembering, and soon I'll be sleepy-eyed as I tuck myself in and rest my head on my own pillow. Grateful always for the best, forgetful of the worst, and trustful of the good that ever hangs around us all whether we know it or not, I'm about to sleep now. A prayer of thanks for one babe of all babies, the blessed Christ child. A dreamless sleep, I hope, but if dreams, then happy ones, like Scrooge's new Christmas-present, and Tiny Tim saying, "God bless us, every one!"

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Old" is Good

Why do people pin such a frown on being old? I think it was Shakespeare who said, "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so." I'm running with that and calling "old" good. The alternative certainly doesn't look good to me!

A number of people I know of my vintage try to extend their lives by exercising, eating right, keeping mentally active. That's good. I do the same, though I am not a fanatic. I've had several ancestors who lived healthily into their nineties and never had to go to a hospital or nursing home, even at the end, and I don't remember any of them doing special exercises or restricting their diet.  So, I say to myself, Live as if today is forever, use good sense and make each day as good as it can be.

I know this idea of "old" being good sounds like a sales pitch for a hard case, or a sermon too lofty to take seriously, but I'm doing my best right now, and while my longevity increases I'll keep trying to make this sermon short.

Bye bye!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Being Alone

My husband always agreed with me that Sunday was not a time for cooking at home so we usually went to a restaurant after church for a noon dinner together. Since I was widowed a few years back I've been alone on Sundays and I miss that. Eating out alone always makes me feel more lonely than being alone at home.

Last Sunday, however,  on my way home from church I suddenly decided to treat myself to dinner out anyway, and here's what happened.

After going over in my mind a choice of restaurants, I settled on Chili's. As I approached the front door I was a few paces behind a young family with two little boys. The dad, a big husky fellow, waited to hold the door for me. I thanked him and soon we were approached by the hostess.

"Are you all one party?" she asked. I nodded no and held up one finger for myself, indicating she should seat the family first. Well, besides mom and dad and the little boys, there was a grandma in the group. She surprised me by saying, "Alone?" (Did I detect a hint of sympathy?) "Say, if you don't mind some lively boys, we'd love to have you join us."

I was surprised and ordinarily would have declined politely, but I heard myself say, "Really?" I looked at the mom and dad. I think grandma had surprised them too but they smiled and said, "Sure, come on along," as they were led to a large table.Well, I did. It would have been totally ungracious of me not to.

Before long we had ordered (I asked for a separate check) and I noticed that the boys were identical twins and cute as children two years old can be. Occasionally one would glance my way but then turn his interest toward the basket of potato chips his brother was dipping into. Their mom had ordered them the first thing. She said, "I know these are not so good for the kids but they love them and only get them the few times we go out. It keeps them better company for everyone." I agreed and said, "I can see you and your husband are good parents. The children are lively but well-behaved for two year olds, and yet neither of you scold them." It was not surprising to learn that she worked as an elementary school counselor.

"So, what is your line of work?" I asked the dad. "I work for the park service now, " he said, "but for the past four years I've been in the Marine Corps." At that I told him about my husband who had served in the Marines for twenty-three years and had fought in World War II and Korea. "He bore shrapnel in his shoulder the rest of his life," I said, "His plane was hit by a Japanese Zero but he got it down safely." Then the dad pulled up a sleeve and showed me shrapnel still lodged in his arm from a roadside bomb in Iraq. "I've got one here too," he said, as he pointed to a spot not more than an inch from his eye.  "That one even entered my brain and it's left me with some short term loss of memory."

"He was awarded two Purple Hearts," his wife said. "Well, I got home with all my limbs," he said, and added quietly, "Some of my buddies didn't." He looked down at his plate then and, as if not wanting to talk more about that, he said, "I'll always be proud to be a Marine."

It was then that the grandmother told me she lives with the family and has ever since they learned they would be having twins. "Well, I'm sure you've been a great help," I said, and I thought, Gosh she's a generation younger than I!

Conversation flowed freely with frequent minor interruptions by the boys and our dinner went by fast. As we got ready to leave the grandma stopped halfway through putting on her coat and looked at me saying, "My goodness! I hadn't thought about this 'till just now but the last thing our pastor told us before going home from church today was  'Go out and greet a stranger today!'"

"Well, you certainly did!" I replied. "This has never happened to me before, but it was a great pleasure to meet you and your family. And it's a funny thing, but I had every intention of going to another restaurant until I saw Chili's and remembered the good meals I've had there with my husband . It seemed I was drawn here today."

We parted company saying we hoped to see each other again sometime and I thanked them. As I walked out to my car I noticed all the holiday lights and felt a warm glow in my heart. It was, indeed,  a distinct feeling of Christmas!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Invention

I've just finished going over a piece in a recent Time Magazine on the subject of modern invention. Funny, how I could read the words but understand so little. Devices already in the works seem so far out that they sound like science fiction. I got a good splash in the face of what our children and grandchildren will need to learn just to catch up. It's hard enough for me to understand even a fraction of the devices I use daily such as the telephone, the electric light, the computer, even an ordinary ink pen. If the world were to come to a screeching halt and I were left alone I think the extent of my inventive ability would give me the wheel, the inclined plane, the pulley, the lever, and maybe one or two other things. Although I watched my country grandmother make soap in a huge iron vessel over a wood fire out in her yard, I would not know how to make lye, and I wouldn't have fat from some animal, two ingredients she used, to even get started. No soap! What a world I'd have to endure if I were alone with my inventions!

Invention, in my family, concentrated in David, our second son. I used to say he got all his inventive ability from me because I don't have it. Someone must have taken it, and he looks guilty. He now works for a company that designs secret anti-weapons for the government. He can't talk about them, but in his childhood, he used to take apart everything he got his hands on to see how it worked. We let him do it after we saw he could get it back together intact.

I've lived through the first of modern computers. The ones that took up rooms. Now they've been reduced in size to peanuts or less. By the mid eighties most offices still had the bulky desk computers with a large bulging screen. I know, because then I learned how to use one when I took a job in the office of a retirement community. Up until then I prided myself to be computer illiterate. A word processor was enough for me. Now I have a flat screen Mac and I know just enough about it to do e-mailing and composition. It sits here like a modern miracle and yet my children and grandchildren use hand held devices the size of cell phones to match, if not exceed, the work that can be done with my Mac.

I am still an incurable foot-dragger when it comes to the modern world. I would not now give up my automatic washer and dryer, but once I did. Back in 1975 Wally G and I moved to southern Oregon onto a 60 acre ranch. It had all the amenities of a turn of the last century country place. Water came into the house gravity fed through pipes from a spring up the hill behind us. Although a large part of the acreage was given to raising hay, there was enough of wooded area to keep us in wood for our two stoves in the house. The exception to early country life was the electricity we enjoyed. Even that could have been supplied, I suppose, by something my dad used on our country homestead before the Rural Electric Company came in. It was called a "Wind Electric." If we'd had that we would really have been self-sufficient, except for our more seasoned neighbors who lived a couple of miles down the road and often came to our rescue. We lived a simple country working life, with only a Maytag washer (the kind with an agitator,) a toaster, flat iron and electric lights. Eight years were enough for us, but with a cow, a few sheep, a good watch dog, a huge garden and fruit trees, we proved we could get along without most modern amenities.

Invention is wonderful, I grant that. It's just that, for me, I'd rather be able to do without it. I think there must be a way to by-pass devices, simple or intricate, and work with mind alone. It's been done by a few in history. I envision a more metaphysical way of doing things. After all, a lot of those new inventions I read about this morning supersede gravity, spy into the insides of things, calculate beyond imagination, even read minds. The minds that thought them up and reduced them to peanut size or less ought also to be able to translate their capabilities practically in the physical realm also. I'd like to see what we call miracles prove to be simply marvels, totally scientific. Now that would be my idea of invention. Or might it be called revelation?