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Thursday, November 29, 2012

After Grandma, What Then?

My dad's mother, Grandma Hattie Pulford Hahn, was a country woman but well educated for her day. That is, she had long passages of the Bible memorized, including the whole Sermon on the Mount. She was my Sunday School teacher in the town's Methodist church and before marriage she'd been a one-room country school teacher. She had thirteen grandchildren but I felt I was a favorite of hers. Perhaps each of us thought the same. I have tons of memories about her and I love her to this day. Her second son, Reuben Jordan Hahn, was my father.

Grandmother Maude Turner Darling was my city grandma. She had a business of her own long before I came along. It was a milliner's shop. By the time I knew this grandmother well she'd had four beautiful children all grown up, but only my two younger brothers and me for grandchildren. We were the offspring of her youngest, my mother, Faith Caroline Darling Hahn.

After graduation from high school I took my first train ride to Riverside, California from Minneapolis, Minnesota. There I was to live with Grandmother Darling and attend the Riverside Junior College located just a short walk from her small adobe cottage. By then both my mother and my country grandma had passed on. Daddy got married to the mother of a schoolmate of mine who had lost his father and the new stepmother was a good fit to take over where I'd left off. This phase of my life presented a comfortable interlude of nearly two years between high school and marriage.

Living with Grandmother Darling gave me a path away from country boyfriends and the likely role of a Minnesota wife and mother. Grandmother bought me a piano and paid for private piano lessons with an excellent teacher. She watched me do her proud with good grades in college where the professors called me "Miss Hahn." I knew the moral boundaries that were expected of me and was glad to obey them, even though these were hinted more than spoken. A "nice girl" just guarded her reputation and self respect. Grandmother Darling paved the way to my marriage to a young Marine captain who was a fighter pilot as well as the product of a family who had lived next door to her in Minneapolis. At nineteen I was married to Wallace Ginder Wethe in the Flyers' Chapel at The Mission Inn in Riverside, California. It was a small and beautiful ceremony.

So, there it is in a nutshell. What prompted this blog? Only this: Grandmothers of the world should be shining examples to their grandchildren. They can't be perfect, but they can show unconditional love and hope in ways that can't offend. No one wants to be exactly like grandma, but good grandmas show us how to be the best of ourselves. Here are a few grandmother rules: Don't preach; just be. Don't criticize; just wait for the seed to grow. Crudely expressed advice I once heard was not too wrong: "A good grandmother keeps her purse open and her mouth shut."I would add, be a grandmother that believes God is always there for His children whether they know it or not. Prayers by grandmothers work.

If you have a loving grandmother count yourself blessed. If you don't, then I pity you, but you can do this: Pretend you have an ideal grandmother. Maybe you can improve on the one or ones you have by being an ideal grandchild. Much of our world is make-believe anyway, so make believe the best of Grandma and Grandpa too. Make believe the best of your parents and even everyone, but most of all make the best of yourself, not in make-believe but for real! A good Grandmother would show you how.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Vacation to Remember

I like short vacations. They serve just as well as long ones to give you a new perspective on life. Lately I've become such a homebody I rarely want to go on any kind of vacation at all. A drive through the spaces we find set aside as greenbelts here in Southern California gives me the sense of adventure I used to get on those long treks when my husband's new Marine Corps assignments took us on moves across the whole country.

Idyllwild, California. Just got home from there with my daughter, Robin. She went to stay at a friend's cabin home and take care of her two dogs while the friend was on a vacation of her own. I was invited to come along. Didn't really want to leave but dreaded the thought of my dear daughter scaling the mountain's curvy roads alone and, after all, she'd accompanied me on our latest trip to Escondido where I used up some of my remaining time share points. So, I went. I'm so glad I did!

There must be something about the mountain air that especially invigorates and refreshes one. When we got there Robin opened the car windows and said, "Smell this air, Mom!" Yes, it did smell wonderful. And the charming cabin where we stayed, the small town feel to the place that belied the fact that it is also a tourist destination, - all this crept into our few days like an elixir of life.

Now I'm grateful to be home again but not for the same old, same old, home. My home is what I might call strangely familiar. That is, it's like an old me with distinct possibilities for change to a better me.

I won't bore my readers with an account of all we did except to say we took our work along. Robin took her paints and canvas and I took my clay and sculpting tools. We both accomplished some satisfying work. And we took out time to browse around the town, find a quaint old-town coffee shop, a few neat gift shops, one nostalgic collectors' thrift store and a delightfully upscale dinner place for our last night. Robin took lots of pictures and talked to the locals. (You can probably find the pics, if you wish, on her Facebook page under Robin Wethe Altman or contact me at and I'll send them to you.)

On the way home we stopped at the Riverside National Cemetery where Wally G's ashes lie beneath a stone along with thousands of other veterans. It was still Veterans' Day (the 11th was on Sunday) so we had missed a celebration, but there were still American flags placed on each gravesite and it was a sight to behold on a sunny fall day! When, after a brief search among the names, we found Wally G's name, we both broke out in tears. So simple. So moving. Wally was not one for funerals but he did say once that he wanted to be buried there, in that cemetery dedicated to veterans, near the town of Riverside where we were married in the Flyers' Chapel at The Mission Inn. He wanted only that tiny spot to declare that there was once a man named Wallace G. Wethe, Lt.Col. USMC who lived, fought and died for his family, his faith and his nation. In time that stone will be replaced with one that is inscribed with both his name and mine. "...and his wife, Joyce." No need for my other surnames. It is enough to be remembered as a Wethe, Wally G's wife of forty years. I could ask no higher honor.

On the last lap home we stopped for lunch at a huge mall on a crossroads in the desert and ate Chinese food in the car under the shade of a tree. The food was disappointing but the fortune cookie made up for that. It said, "Wishing you happiness."

Friday, November 9, 2012

When a Friend Hits You

The subject of pacifism comes up often in the human narrative though maybe not so often as the instinct to fight back. These come up at every stage of growth and need to be addressed even daily in small and large ways from bitter words to harmful actions.

I often think of a friend of ours, a man who was married but had no children of his own and loved children. He became a favorite pal of the little ones in his neighborhood. One day one of the little boys appeared on his doorstep in tears. "What's the matter, Georgie?" my friend asked. Wiping his eyes with his sleeve Georgie said between sobs, "My friend hit me!"

How often do we all run up against this in our lives? It's bad enough to have an adversary strike us, but when a friend does? This adds a special gall to the cup. We feel betrayed and hurt. We expect our friends to be friends without exception. As for enemies, well, an occasional slap in the face or unkind remark is to be expected. In either case, what shall we do, take it on the chin and stand tall or give out with a sock in the eye?

In my personal life I try to be the stand tall type but when it comes to war I tend to lean toward meeting warlike actions with a strong warring response. In my long lifetime I've seen the results of both pacifism and war and find there's no easy answer. Even Jesus predicted that there will be wars. I don't recall he said, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, heal the sick, raise the dead, and refuse to go to war at any cost."

My first husband was a Marine fighter pilot and served in two wars over a 20+ year career. I know he had unspoken regrets over dropping bombs or shooting down enemy planes but he regarded his mission as honorable in defending our nation from enemies who would inflict pain and persecution on us in order to serve their evil regimes.

On the personal level I seldom have a warlike reason to act against anyone. I try to always see the other's point if it is contrary to my own but recently I found myself responding to an unkind remark by one who has been a lifetime friend with the "silent treatment." You know how that goes. You simply cut off relationship with the offender by cutting off all dialogue. I've seen others do it and scorned the behavior as a form of hatred that is cruel and unseemly and self-defeating.

This person is the kind that never engages in healthy discussion on a controversial subject but states her view and ends further dialogue with the change of subject. So, I didn't want to give a straightforward response to her comment. Still, the longer I waited to respond or communicate with this one in any way the worse I felt about it. It's hard to carry a grudge, no matter how justified. To have someone in your life who has been a good friend, in spite of her sometimes odd attitudes, and suddenly cut that one out of mind and heart takes conscious effort. Even after overlooking many such remarks should I finally take a stand and end the relationship with silence or anger? What would that do to me? Am I ready to suffer the toll on my own psyche?

My daughter, Robin, is a pacifist. She wants to love the whole world and never, never go to war over anything. I admire her conviction that "There must be better ways than war, Mom!" And I agree, but still I wonder.

As for my friend, I am overlooking the remark as something she said to announce her point but didn't mean to hurt me. After all, she is my friend. When the little neighborhood boy stood on the doorstep of my other friend in tears I know he was brought in, given a glass of milk and a cookie and some kindly advice to remember the "friend" part of his relationship. For further encounter with others we too should remember that when some snag threatens to sever our friendship. It takes a load off our minds to forgive, even when forgiveness is not sought. That should go for our enemies too, I suppose.  But that's another story altogether!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Curiosity & Discovery at any Age

Today I'll be seeing the great grandie who lives nearest me. He is nine months old and his name is Jack Carlo Murcia. When I write about him I want you to know I am not slighting my other great grandies, Sammantha, Max, Kingston, and Amy. I love them all dearly but baby Jack is the one I get to observe most frequently because he lives the nearest.

As I've mentioned before, to watch a baby at play you can plainly see that life is a matter of curiosity and discovery for babies. It should be for us all up until the day we become curious enough to have the daring to reach out to the "hereafter."

Now, to anyone who doesn't believe in a hereafter or a here-to-fore, I say, That's OK. I won't try to change your mind because I can't furnish proof of either. Still, since I have no proof either that there isn't life before birth and after death, I simply choose to believe in both. Someone once pointed out to me that in order to see the here-to-fore and the hereafter you only need to climb to a higher point of view. It's like seeing the bend in a river from a precipice above rather than from the shore below. Sounds reasonable to me. No one can say there's not a whole lot more to life than any of us have yet discovered. And that makes me highly interested in the here and now from an ever ascending standpoint.

Baby Jack and Baby Amy (who I saw on Skype the other day) are both curious about the colorful toys their parents have provided them. Color, feel, taste, smells and sounds fill their waking hours. As they grow they also learn to recognize love. Later they'll learn the do's and don'ts of life through trial and error and/or the guidance of their parents and teachers. Along the way they'll get educated in social and civic matters. They'll find inner talents in literature, music, art, science, etc. Maybe they will entertain curiosity that reaches beyond the five senses. This is good up to a point so long as it doesn't become adherence to baseless conjecture and superstition.

Now, I'm wondering if all this is so transparent that it's too boring to go on my blog site. Where is it going? I don't know. I just find it fun to write. Words sometimes lead me to ideas I've not thought of before. Just as my fingers form clay into faces of people I've never known. What comes out on paper and in clay is often something unique and worthy.

So, what did I get out of this blog? Only the suggestion that I too, at the near age of 87, am a baby yet, exploring a territory beyond my present comprehension. To have the curiosity to seek a more compassionate point of view (even in the midst of a political campaign!) is to gain peace and understanding. To suffer the pains of what others may appear to inflict on me without striking back?  That is a step toward a better world, but not if it means letting oneself be victimized. Putting up with wrongs when we can help to set things straight is no virtue, but resisting requires wisdom and moral stature.

Some say that age is infancy. I say that if that's so, then great! I'm ready to explore my world with the curiosity of a baby who's learning to crawl and the discovery of a sage who has learned to climb.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Music of Our Times

When I get tired of TV News told over and over again I tune into a station (on the TV) called "Easy Listening." It takes me to a sweet spot in my heart that rests beguilingly between romanticism and nostalgia. I want to write about it but you know, dear reader, exactly what I mean. You may have a more recent collection of songs, the songs of your own tender youth and younger years, but the feeling is the same.

Right now for me it is playing "Tears Get In Your Eyes." I remember the first time hearing it. A senior girl at one of our high school events stood with a mike in her hand down on the gymnasium floor. (We didn't have an auditorium in our small town high school.) She had a beautiful voice and sang it so tenderly I could not hold back the tears in my own eyes.

That girl has gone into the hereafter now as so many of my classmates have. That too brings tears to my eyes. Happy times often take our minds back to earlier years, different scenes, by-gone days. Those were the days when we had hopes and dreams for the future. That future? I don't recall that I ever thought of it as the "single blessedness" I now enjoy or the prospect of having adorable great grandchildren. That future was something almost too sweet to define. It hung on the strains of music we loved. The music of our times.

Recently I visited a charming gift shop and bought a little block of wood with words inscribed on it saying: THE OLDER I GET THE BETTER I WAS. When I saw an old photo of myself the other day I thought to myself, Was that really how good I looked? Now I see myself in photos and want to cut that part of the picture out. I don't recognize me. Why is it I still feel ageless inside? There must be a "me" that only I can see or feel. Thankfully, that inner me is the only one I see on a regular basis. The other one, the outer one, is what others see or I see only in photos. Even the image in the bathroom mirror is better when I get my make-up on in the warm amber light. Once I leave it I leave others to deal with the outer picture and myself with an inner one whose face is hidden but whose heart is laid bare.

Now the music is playing "I Worry and Wonder." Yes, I worry and wonder. Then I step out on my patio on a day like this when the sun falls in filtered light through tree tops and reflects on the creek's ripples in sparkles of gold. I feel good. I think if I knew then I'd "end up" contented with a long life behind and the mystery of the next life somewhere, sometime not too soon, in a place like this with children who love me, grandchildren too, and darling babies and toddlers for great grandies, I might have been happy to know I was going there. Still, I do worry and wonder sometimes. Wherever was that sweet spot when life was absolutely perfect and I didn't know it? When did I pass it by unnoticed because I was reaching out longingly on the strains of the music of my times?