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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Why We Do What We Do

It’s been gradually dawning on me why I write blogs. They are a form of innocent distraction from the everyday. But sometimes it’s a way to make something more meaningful of the everyday. You who have moved recently know what I mean by that. 

Thank goodness the everyday things I do today are not to be forever. Unpacking boxes, finding places to put things, bemoaning the fact that I have to part with so much; glad to part with it too. Constant decisions. Constant evaluations. “Will I ever get around to reading this book again? But I can’t give it away; it has all my favorite Robert Frost poems in it. I should have memorized them by now. Better keep it.”

And that’s just the books. The big problem with the keepers is that I’m running out of shelves. Justification for keeping books or any other thing must be weighed in mind carefully. That takes time. Other boxes can have anything in them. When everything is in its proper place in my new home it will be easier to make it through a day, but the sad thing is that everything in its place is often putting it out of sight and out of sight is out of mind. Will I have to wait until another move to even see these things again? Oh dear!

Between raids on the boxes the house looks so inviting! But the boxes on the patio are an eyesore. I must let Robin haul in another load and then it starts all over again. A box for keepers, a box for give-aways. A box for the dumping of old papers and letters. Things I should shred. At least now we’re down to the last few boxes. Pictures are nearly all hung. The ones that passed the keepers test that is. 

Robin has been staying with me and helping immensely, but she’s also keeping up with her own life except for the painting hours. That is a real sacrifice for her but she spontaneously comes up with comments like, “Oh, I just love being here with you, Mom! Your new home feels like it’s partly mine and it’s so peaceful and quiet. When we go out the people are so friendly and the dining room meals are delicious!” I’d love to take her in but she’s not ready for that. She has a lovely home of her own only minutes away. 

Well, you see why I need a distraction now and then. The computer sits over here on the secretary looking so innocent. “It won’t take long to write another blog. Maybe you’d like to play your one-a-day game of Solitaire? Better take at least a glance at your e-mail.” 

It would be hauntingly quiet here when I’m alone, but I’m never alone. Tommy, who in his molting spell not long ago and didn’t sing a note, is now singing constantly. No more feathers are sticking to the cage and he’s active and happy. I talk to him some and he to me, but the language barrier is a problem. I could go out and sit in the sun before it leaves the patio. Or I could play the piano now that the doors and windows are all shut. I could get started on that new novel I have laid aside. These, too, would be pleasant distractions, but the blog won out. Soon Robin will be home again and she’ll assess the box situation. I can’t let her down.   

Monday, April 14, 2014

Slow Motion Time

There’s a little wood block someone painted with the words: “The Older I Get The Better I Was.” I bought it at a gift shop somewhere near Lawrence Welk Village in Escondido. It sits on top of the china cabinet now beside a basket of greenery. As I think about it, I have to agree. My mother would have been proud to know that at fourteen I’d begin to carry on where she left off.

I was thinking of that this morning as I stumbled through some old pieces on the piano. I used to love hearing her play Edelweiss Glide. I practiced until I could play it nearly as well as she had. So when my piano teacher heard me play it she said, “My dear, I’m going to let you play this in the recital. What’s more you will be the last number.” I knew she meant last meant the best. I was sure I was not her most advanced pupil so that puzzled me but later I figured it out. There were two other pupils who had been vying for that place in the program. Their mothers may have been even more anxious to see their kid get the spot. Since my mother had died earlier that year Mrs. Nestande no doubt knew those other pupils and their mothers could hardly deny me the place, and that would let her off the hook for choosing between them. I really could play the number with great zest and flourish but I sat nervously through all the others pieces with my heart beating faster at every applause because I couldn’t remember the opening chord. However, once I got seated on the piano bench it came to me and from then on I gave it my all. The applause that time went right to my head!

Through the years that is the one piano piece I’ve been able to remember without the music in front of me and though it continued to delight, I never could play it as well as I did that day. Later on I really earned the last place in the recital with Greig’s To Spring (six sharps!) and could play difficult pieces, but I never kept on studying or practicing them. Today I can amuse myself at the piano and I make my sittings there short. No one has complained and no one has praised and no one has even mentioned the piano. Just the way I like it.

I think most everyone can take a bit of pride in old photos. Youth’s bloom touches us all, and in my move I’ve come across one or two photos of me that gave Wally some pride and pleasure on his overseas wartime duties. All this runs counter to my blog’s title, I know, but I keep holding onto it and trying to make it so. Getting better as we get older can be refreshing in many ways if we look for signs of that.

I used to get around with ease, hardly ever getting tired or having to endure complaints from my body. Not so now. So, what do I do about it? I keep as active as I can but have learned how to enjoy slow motion. I focus on one thing at a time and tell myself how much I enjoy it. Appreciation is a great handmaid. Also gratitude and love. I think getting older can at last make negative and worrisome thinking so distasteful we learn to drop it quickly, like a hot potato. 

A short nap once in a while is a lovely way to slow down. Also, silence, or near silence, lets us appreciate the present moment with our own thoughts. I used to watch the news regularly. I’ve given that up. I read it briefly on line or in the weekly issue of The Christian Science Monitor, a really good source. Thinking too much about the future is unproductive too. There’s a way I heard of making days better. “Keep your violin in tune.” It’s so much better than letting it get out of tune and when applied to our days and the quality of mind it really works.

I’d add to that, Have a wastebasket or trash can handy and carry all wasteful thoughts and actions out to a dumpster. Call it a short walk. The good things along the way need your appreciation and kind thoughts. Be glad for the little blessings of life and say hello to the birds and flowers. Give a salute to the sun and make use of park benches. Slow motion is an amazingly easy way to get through a day. If you’ve taken time to read this, you must believe that too.  

Monday, April 7, 2014

Burdens or Blessings?

“I don’t want to be a burden to my children.” It’s one of the things most frequently heard in older generation’s conversations. Of course we all tend to think like that, but we should think also of the holes in that statement. First, assuming we’ve earned the love and respect of our children, why would children consider it a burden to help us in our times of need? If nothing else, think of all those diaper changes we did for them! Were they a burden? Think of the growing up years, the college expenses, the marriage ones. Burdens or blessings?

Recently I’ve needed the help of my children and they’ve all three stood up to bat gladly. They’ve said it is a pleasure to spend more time with Mom. What a gift! Occasionally I feel embarrassed that I have not made more of a contribution to society with an important career of some kind. Then I think of what I did do. I and my husband too. I helped to make a home for our children. It was a good home, loving but principled, caring but not coddling. A home of work and fun, a home of love for family and dedication to church. Because my husband’s career had us moving frequently it was not practical to pursue a career outside the home. I won’t sing my praises too much but let’s say I was a good mother. Love and respect were staples in our family and still are.

Now, in these later years if I need help from my kids, they come cheerfully and I have a chance to see them under circumstances more intimate than our holiday gatherings. We talk, we visit, we work together and enjoy each others’ company in ways not always possible at other times in their busy lives. I’d be awfully surprised if they consider me a burden. For this I am so grateful!

Now, dependency is another thing. Who wants to be dependent upon their children? My mother-in-law came to live with us after my father-in-law died. She did not have a lot to live on but she wanted to give us what she could afford so she insisted on paying us what she had been paying for rent. “I want to feel a part of the family. I won’t be a bother,” she said. “I just love to hear footsteps in the hall, voices of ones I care about. I need to feel a part of the family but still feel independent.” And she was just that for the nearly twenty years she lived with us. Because of her presence in our home I could take on volunteer jobs without making latch-key kids out of our children. If I was out working at one of those jobs when they got home from school they’d naturally migrate to Grandma’s room to chat about their day, play a card game or two, or watch some TV program. Since Grandma had the only TV in the house, that was a drawing card, but she also had a small supply of home-baked cookies or fresh doughnuts. No generation gap there. And “Gracie,” as she was known by her friends, had a pretty good life. She knew her worth and drew her own boundaries, not taking over my place or assuming the position of matriarch. 

It’s good to know, when the time comes that we need each other, that we as parents have earned our children’s love and respect, that should it work out that we live together or near one another it is a blessing on all sides.

I feel sorry for parents and children who have built up barriers between each other. It doesn’t need to matter who’s at fault and maybe those barriers can be taken down. A friend of ours said that Robin’s help for me and the mutual blessings that have come of it are such an inspiration to him that he decided to give his dad more of his time. His siblings wrote their dad off and never see him because of past grievances. But our friend has kept the door open and yesterday the two of them had a good talk and a long walk on the beach. Their time together was so gratifying that now he’s going to see his dad more often. 

I’ll never forget a neighbor of ours who came from a large family. She was the one who took their father in toward the end of his life. She often asked her siblings to come visit dad but they had excuses. “We’re so far away. We have made other plans for our vacation. We’d like to but...” When it looked like the dad was not long for this world she again called. “It would so please Daddy to see you again. Won’t you come?” They didn’t. Then when the dad died she called again. 

“When is the funeral? Where is it? We’ll be there!”
My friend’s response was, “You needn’t bother. It’s too late to make any difference for Dad. You could have come before. It would have meant so much to him.” I think this happens more often than not in many families. Too bad! 

I’m glad to say that my present needs will soon be over. I am independent and do not intend to live with my children. But when people ask me what I used to be, what sort of career I’ve had, etc. I have a hard time telling them I’ve been a homemaker and mother and grandmother. It seems those things require an apology but I can’t put one into words.         

Thursday, April 3, 2014

My Dreams

Have you ever tried to write poetry? I have, but not recently. I started when Wally G. and I were opening our hearts to a long held dream, the country life. Going through boxes of old papers, notebooks, and photographs Robin and I are getting caught up in memorabilia. When I came across a notebook of poems I wrote at this stage of life, about 1974-75, I read to her this poem I’d written then. 

“Mom, you have to put this in one of your blogs!”  But I protested. “These poems were never meant for publication. They’re kid stuff. Sing-songy. Poets scoff at that sort of thing.” Still, she insisted, so here it comes:

My Dreams

My dreams are made of simple things
like baking bread and plain gold rings.
Of country views from farmhouse doors,
Of fresh new morns and farmyard chores.
Chickens pecking in the yard,
doughnuts sizzling in hot lard.
Coffee brewing on the stove,
smiling faces filled with love.
Vine-clad porches, summer days,
berries brightening, bird-songs’ praise.
Old Bessie mooing in the sun,
children swinging, having fun.
Oh, I could go on for hours
listing joys like smelling flowers.
Featherbeds and snow-soaked mittens,
pony rides and cuddly kittens,
baby lambs who romp and bleat,
hay-filled barns and lilacs sweet.
Seasons coming, seasons going, 
holidays with warm hearts glowing
sharing, caring, singing songs,
attic snooping, dinner gongs.
Finding eggs in hidden places,
playing games, peeking faces.
Story books ‘neath shady trees,
hammocks, naps and buzzing bees.
Hitching up old Ned and Queenie,
bamboo poles and meadows dreamy.
Screen doors banging, pickle making,
cellars dank, and babies waking,
Grandma’s aprons, long and wide,
raindrops when you’re safe inside.
Wood stoves on a winter’s day,
tables set, friends come to stay.
Full lunch boxes, lessons, books,
hikes through woods, secret nooks.
Yes, this may all be plain old hat,
but my dreams are made of things like that.