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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Day Without Air-Conditioning

When you get older one advantage you have over the younger generation is knowing what it’s like to live without air-conditioning. During the last heat wave I counted the ways we beat the heat when we were young. 

  1. We slept out on the back lawn on a bed sheet until flies or mosquitoes drove us in. If we were lucky enough to have a screened-in porch with a fan blowing on us we’d go there in the first place. (That was in Minnesota for me.)
  2. Open windows helped in California desert’s dry air if you kept them wide open at night and closed them in the early morning. In my grandmother’s Riverside adobe house this worked very well.
  3. On long car trips we made it a point to stop at every A&W root beer stand we came to. Air-conditioning in cars was new and expensive. Going through the desert we found night driving helped but the Milky Way’s canopy of stars made it hard to keep eyes on the road. How can you use the word “awesome” in any lesser way?
  4. When we lived in a Quonset Hut on the Mojave Desert an air cooler worked very well. If you don’t know what an air cooler is, it’s a window box lined with fibrous material. When water drips through it and a large fan blows air inside it works wonders.
  5. Of course, a hand held paper fan was a boon if you were in a captive audience like a lecture hall or sitting in a church pew. It helped keep you awake too.
  6. Before refrigeration and ice cubes we’d use an ice pick to shave off shards from a block of ice in the ice box to fill tall glasses of lemonade or iced tea. If you’ve never heard the music from a tray of these such as my auntie brought in from the kitchen you’ll never know what you’ve missed.  
I’ll trade modern air-conditioning any day for those old ways, but today there’s no need. It’s summertime and temps are in the mid seventies here. Doors are open. Windows too. Soft breezes waft in with the chatter and songs of wild birds. Yes, I do hear the faint purring of air conditioners somewhere. I wonder why?

Monday, May 26, 2014

On Memorial Day I Remember Rufus

It's Memorial Day.This day always reminds me of Rufus although Grandma didn’t necessarily wait until Decoration Day (as we called it then) to take flowers up to his grave on the hill.

My Grandma Hattie was married to Grandpa Jordan Hahn in the late 1800’s. They had five children, Thomas, Reuben (my father), Earl, and Estella. And then there was Rufus. I don’t know where he fit in. All I remember was that he died early as a baby. We didn’t talk about Rufus except when Grandma took me up to the Crown Hill Cemetery in our small town of Preston Minnesota. There the little gravestone with Rufus’s name on it lay off to one side. I remember how tenderly Grandma laid the best flowers from her garden on it. 

Naturally, I wanted to know more about Rufus then but the only thing I remember now is the way Grandma told me about how God had called little Rufus to Him early because he was such a precious baby. “Do you mean Rufus went up to heaven the way Jesus did, in his body?”

“No, Joycie, God only took Rufus’s soul.” 

“What did his soul look like?” I asked. But Grandma said we can’t see the soul with our eyes. So I made up a picture of baby Rufus’s soul in my mind. I looked up into the blue sky and imagined I could see a little wispy white cloud floating gently upward until it went out of sight because the sun blinded my eyes. 

I’ve been to many Memorial Day ceremonies in my time that were stirring tributes to those men and women who gave their lives to their country while serving in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. They’ve been impressive. Little Rufus might have lived to fight in World War I. I wonder what he would have looked like if he had. Might he have died giving his life to his country?  If he had, would his soul have looked the same? I think it may have still been a pure white cloud, only slightly bigger.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

In The Mood

Since I started blogging I’ve noticed that my inclination to write blogs runs in spurts. Today I wasn’t in the mood so I thought just for the fun of it I’d try writing anyway. I’m starting to write about six p.m. on Monday evening. Let’s see what might make its way to my first draft pages.

I’ve seldom admitted the suggestion of writers’ block, but then I haven’t been pressured to write except for school assignments long ago. Writing, for me, has always been just for fun. Frankly, I’d be scared to go pro in this or any other venue. I wouldn’t want to write just for money. (Good thing; I might starve.)

So, what if I’m not in the mood? I say to myself, who cares? No one will be upset if I never write again at all. Except me. I'd wish I could get in the mood again though because it’s fun. (These first three paragraphs, you see, are a stalling technique. I’m really waiting to get in the mood.)

My sweet canary doesn’t have any trouble that way. He sings, he swings, he flaps his wings, and then he takes a sip of water or samples the seed cup or a morsel of apple and he’s performing again. How he puts his heart into it! It doesn’t matter to him that I don’t know what he’s saying. Nor does it bother him that I pay attention only a fraction of the time. I love his melodies but can’t make out the lyrics at all. Does he know? Does he care? Apparently not. God must have made birds to sing for Him. They must have more in their make-up to put them in the mood than vanity or mere instinct. What is it? 

I admit that at times I feel sorry for Tommy. Does he know what he’s missing by having been born into captivity? Is his song his secret open gate to freedom? I know many people think we should not buy birds. They think it’s cruel to deny them their original habitats and that if everyone would stop buying birds the industry would die out. Like real fur coats. Maybe. But this little creature who graces my home? He was there in the pet shop waiting for someone to take him home. Someone would have bought him. Why not me? He will not father any more of his kind. Is that good? I’m not sure.

If I were totally convinced that it is cruel to raise birds in captivity I might start a campaign to outlaw that. But I’m no spring chicken. It’s too late for me to become a wild bird activist. Someone else will have to take up the cause. Anyway, one of the most bird-loving persons I ever met, one who took countless people on early morning bird-watching walks and knew about as much as any bird lover on earth, (Doc Wanamaker) had a half dozen or more canaries and other birds in his home. I never asked him if he felt guilty about that. Should I feel guilty about my Tommy Tucker? 

I think not. Tommy’s singing is natural. His swinging too. He’s great company even though he doesn’t like to be petted or touched. He shows appreciation for the care I give him and he sings all day long whether he has an audience or not. That must mean he’s healthy and happy, don’t you think? I would be grateful to have something to keep me so in-the-mood. 

Well, what do you know? My blogger friends can thank one small songster for this one. It’s taken about two and a half hours to write this first draft. Editing will come later and then I may feel in the mood to press the button that says, “Publish.” If so, you can thank Tommy!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Tea Time Drop-Ins

My grandson-in-law said to my granddaughter recently, “Why is it that in this country you need to make appointments to see friends and neighbors, even relatives?” (I need to explain that Luis grew up in Costa Rica where people mingled freely on the streets or in each others’ homes.) He said, “We never called to see if it was OK. We just dropped in on each other. If we were home, fine. If not, no big deal.”

It’s true. Whenever I’ve moved I might meet my new neighbors coming and going, stop for a minute to chat, but then we’d be on our way. If one of us asked the other in for a visit we’d likely have set a date and time and then be sure to get it on the calendar. My latest move to The Willows has been far more cordial and relaxed. People came to my door early on with tokens of welcome. A plate of cookies, a little flowering plant, a small sack of chocolates. We visited amidst the boxes waiting to be unpacked. Now that I’m settled and ready for drop-ins, they're not coming. I've said, “Please, come see me when you have a minute,” but no takers so far. 

In my grandmother’s day women used to regard Thursdays as the day to go calling. I think they’d even indicate on their calling cards which Thursday of the month they’d be at home and ready for callers. Things were formal then but Grandmother told me about one friend of hers who had invited her and one other for tea and on the appointed day she and the other invitee arrived at the same time only to find that there was no answer to the doorbell. Just then their hostess came hurrying up the sidewalk, her arms laden with groceries. She smiled and greeted them, got out her key and let them in. “Sit down here in the kitchen,” she said. Then she got out a bowl and spoon and the fixings for cookies, lit the oven and set the tea kettle on the stove. She excused herself to go out the back door and came in with a tablecloth off the clothesline, sprinkled it and ironed it while the cookies baked, visiting cheerfully all the time without excuses. I’ve often thought of that dear lady and felt a kinship with her. I wonder if she didn’t ask Grandmother and her friend to take off their hats too and set the table.

It’s good to have my new house in fairly good order. I’d be ready for anyone to drop in on me today but I didn’t issue an invitation or make an appointment. Guess I should go look at my calendar, get out the list of other residents here and plan a tea party. Let’s see, who shall I invite first? How many can I fit in? Where is my recipe for those yummy date-filled cookies Grandmother used to make?  Shall I try scones too? What about the clotted cream to go with them? And strawberry preserves? The linens will need to be washed and ironed maybe, if I can find them. 

On second thought it’s so peaceful here this afternoon. Just thinking about all this has made me look longingly to the sofa. Wonder what’s showing on the TCM movie channel? Wouldn’t it be nice if a neighbor just popped up to my door now? I could offer her some delicious multi-grain toast with orange marmalade. And I have lots of tea. I'd invite her to watch the movie with me. Shall I snag someone off the sidewalk? But no one is going by, and besides if she were she’d be on her way home. It’s hard to beat the pull of home. Another time? I’d give her a call later and set a date. 

I'd planned to iron some blouses today but the movie is starting now. It’s a good one with Harrison Ford, my favorite. I’ll go grab a soda and a fistful of those alphabet cookies in the cupboard, take the day off, be my own guest. Linen napkin? No, a paper towel will do. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Pictures, Pictures, and Then?

The monitor on my computer is big and bright with a familiar scene. It’s a sunshiny photo of one of Laguna’s lovely beaches. Robin took the picture and we went to the park overlooking this beach the other day to recapture memories. Our memories were made a generation apart but the scene has scarcely changed, to the eye, in eons. I was glad to see it in glorious real time again. But as I breathed in the strong ocean air, watched the sea gulls swoop and soar, their scolding screeches punctuating the brush of wings, I remembered only fractions of the child I was. Never swimming but paddling around fearlessly, riding the waves, diving off rocks, then basking on the hot sand. I could still feel the sun's caress and how it soothed away my shaking chills. But that young girl was gone. 

When I compare the world of pictures to the world of youth’s pungent persistent present I feel I've climbed a mountain and the view is grand but distant. I get a glimpse of the past through the binoculars of pictures, but I am no longer there. I am destined to go over the hill, to see the other side. I can’t go back the way i came but there are no pictures of the future. It is shrouded in secrecy and merely whispered in prophecy. 

Have you ever had the feeling that those adorable babies and toddlers who call themselves your grandchildren and great grandies, the ones whose pictures dominate the Facebook pages, are pushing you out of the picture? Well, they are, and we are allowing it. Those minutes of childhood realities I had of climbing trees, swinging, sledding down snowy slopes, skating on ice clad rivers, pony rides, and all the wonders of childhood have already been swallowed up in memory. I'm headed straight into unknown territory. There are no pictures there. Pictures are partial to the past. 

Something new and fresh and totally different is dawning on us. Jesus didn’t slide down the other side of the mountain. He ascended; he was lifted up. I think he meant for us to follow. In a realm where time is obsolete I think pictures will become obsolete too. But, for now, I’m enjoying them. Especially ones of the babies. And the beach that is right here reminding me.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Why Do We Need Mothers' Day?

Yesterday was Mothers’ Day. I was well remembered by my children. We were together mind, body and spirit. Gifts and cards and precious handwritten notes came my way. But, to me, there’s always a secret spot in my heart that hides sadness behind the gladness on this day. It’s not only that my own mother died when I was just fourteen years old and my brothers eleven and five. It’s for all those who have lost their mothers and mothers who have lost their children one way or another. My grandmother showed me a letter Mother had written shortly before her passing. It ended with "Please take care of my babies."

It may seem fitting to honor our parents with days set aside for them, and yet I wonder if it isn’t enough, even better, that we do this not with special days of celebration or just because we’re expected to on those special days, but with appreciative thoughts and spontaneous gestures straight from the heart on any ordinary day. 

No one but a mother can know the joys, the pains, the hopes that a mother harbors in her heart for her newborn child. When Mothers’ Day comes along and everyone seems to be remembering Mom with smiles and hugs, that mom who hasn’t heard from her child, that one who has lost a child, that one who is overlooked and forgotten by her child on that day, - that mom only can know what I mean when I say that it may be hard for these moms to be greeted with "Happy Mothers' Day!" 

I know a mother whose child is in jail. I know of her early nurturing of him, her patience and endless love. I know, too, that he loves her but something always goes wrong. I know of some mothers who feel unloved, forgotten, abandoned on this day. Is their pain worth the joy that luckier mothers feel when showered by gifts and cards and phone calls because of a special day to celebrate Mother?  

Years ago my young sons, Wally and David, had forgotten (or not been reminded) to write me a card on Mothers’ Day. As the other mothers at the dinner table opened their cards and gifts my two boys slipped away sheepishly and without apology to another room. I was hurt deeply, both by them and my husband who had not seen to it. After dinner I went off to another room myself and moped. Then I thought, Why you crazy woman! Aren’t your boys good boys? Aren’t they respectful of you every day? Don’t they get good grades in school? Haven’t they held to the high standards of social behavior you’ve expected? Don’t they even hug you and kiss you often? Then my husband slipped into the room and apologized for not seeing to it that the boys did something. (Robin was too young to have known.) Maybe my thoughts about Mothers’ Days started then.

Now that I’ve stated my case I hasten to add there are countless rebuttals to this argument out there. I would never start campaigning against Mothers’ Day. It’s just a thought. I’m even crazy enough to feel the same way about birthdays. The card companies would call me the Scrooge of all celebration, but I’m not. No, I think celebration of our loved ones, of all the good things and people in our lives should be as natural as breathing. God gave us birthdays and mothers’ days and fathers’ days and Christmases and happy times. I’m not for discounting these. They deserve their specialness. Even celebrations, I suppose, but without excess. There I go, conceding. But maybe some of my readers will agree just a smidgen?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

"How Come?"

Years ago I heard a talk given by a professor of astronomy. In it he brought out the point that each step in the evolution of man can be recognized by two words. Those words are, “How come?” He illustrated the point like this: “In the earliest days of life on earth there were only one-celled creatures floating around in a sea of countless other one-celled creatures. Can’t you picture one of them being the first to get washed up onto dry land? There he was stretching his little neck and looking around from the rock he was perched on, seeing things in a new light from a higher and steadier position apart from the crowd. What might he have said? I’ll tell you.” Here the professor illustrated the scene, stretched his own neck, looked around as far as he could, and in hushed voice uttered the words, “How come?” After a due pause he added, “Now that was a step in evolution.”

Every day we are being bombarded by things that could, if we’d let them, cause us to stop in our tracks and say, “How come?” Or, “Why?” In justifying the title to my blog, Getting Older Is Getting Better, I offer the observation that taking time to think, really think, and probe the deeper questions of life are often put off to retirement. Even as I say this I know such a generalization is not true. Perhaps philosophy class students in college would beg to differ. 

Still, in our advancing years we cannot fail to wonder what’s to become of us. Is the birth to death scenario all there is to this creature we identify as "me?" We usually struggle against the thought and look for answers. We’d like to get past the stage of believing to that of proving. In our search many of us turn to The Holy Bible for answers. Still, the Bible is apt to prompt as many questions as answers. Some give up and look to science. We tend to respect the scientific community and try to find justification in both religious and scientific views even though it often seems like pushing a square peg into a round hole.

Movies sometimes reflect the ongoing curiosity that is native to mankind about these matters. I saw one yesterday. It is called “God’s Not Dead.” I found it to be a thought-provoking, (although hardly unbiased) work. I wouldn’t say it made the case adequately for itself, however. There are better arguments for Christianity than the ones presented there in my estimation. However I only mention the movie because it offers a threshold of exploration for anyone who might like to delve deeper into the subject of atheism vs. Christianity. 

Giving thought to the deeper questions of life need not leave us abandoned in the sea of arguments. It can give us answers that satisfy ourselves, if not convince others. Such research is worthy of our time but hardly worthy of obsession or quarrelsome argument. The questions we ask in sincerity to find the truth and the time spent in searching out answers are never wasted. They offer exploration and insight. They may even grant us a higher standpoint for evolving to the next stage of understanding. 

Every day we ask, “How come?”  We do well to honor this question. The Christian Science Bible Lesson this week says we can “return to the days of (our) youth.” (Job 33:14) Now there’s something to chew on!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Lonely Hearts Can Be Glad

“Seniors,” we’re known as. Unless we’re invited to join a family and occupy a room in their home, as my mother-on-law did, we are often seen as sad lonely hearts. As in the mournful tune, “None but the lonely heart can know my sorrow.” Others busy themselves by doing good, joining clubs, picking projects, writing memoirs. A few, (maybe more than a few,) have found the joy of solitude. We can be as sociable as we desire, but solitude is not a bad word. 

“My sense of nature's rich glooms is, that loneness lacks but one charm to make it half divine - a friend, with whom to whisper, 'Solitude is sweet.'" (Mary Baker Eddy) I confess that I find it pleasant to have my children nearby, if not actually occupying my home as Robin has been doing most of the time since I moved into the Willows Community. I have needed her help and she and I get along very well together. That makes a happy home for us both now. It is even enhanced by the days and nights when she occupies her own home about 10 minutes south of here. That’s where solitude kicks in.

With me solitude reminds me of how independent, or rather dependent I am on God, comes in. Solitude also calls upon me to remember that the words “alone” and “lonely” have the same important core, the word “one.” To me that means we are all one with God and with each other. We belong. We’re included. We cannot be separate from anyone or anything past, present or future. That’s a good thing if we know how to see all in the light of Love. What a difference this thought can make to the words alone and lonely!

When I was in kindergarden the teacher asked one day if anyone could recite something. I had learned this Bible verse in Sunday school: “This is the day the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” I raised my hand, went to the front of the class and recited it. I must have been too young to let bashfulness beat boastfulness. No, I rather think that the knowledge that I knew something helped me overcome the shrinking violet in me and preempt silence. Anyway, my recitation brought me the teacher’s praise and my mother’s pride when she heard of it. The Sunday school teacher who had pinned that verse to my dress no doubt heard of it too. All this made me glad that day and ever since.

That Bible verse reminds me that all days should be glad days. Even bad news can be nullified by the realization that good alone is true. “Call it all good,” a friend of mine used to say. Why? “Because good is all there really is,” he would add. What appears as bad has no power of its own to claim presence or power. It takes our cooperation to make it appear real. It cannot sustain itself because it always needs something good to attempt to negate. 

In our community here at the Willows we are given the opportunity to listen to the weekly Bible Lesson on a speaker in our individual units (called “villas.”) Some prefer to silence them, but that’s OK. The Bible Lesson can be studied in the paper edition or with the e-Bible Lesson on line. To me, the audio version is pleasant because when I listen I am aware that I am not alone. Or rather, I am at one with all the others who are listening at the same time. 

Solitude need not connote sorrow but rather gladness, depending on how we look at it. Prayer for ourselves, the world, our country, our community, our family, and for the knowledge that we don’t need to, (as this week’s Bible lesson says,) eat of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” is a fact that makes us glad. Even the worst of scenarios is a mere lie, not the truth. This Jesus proved on the cross and in the tomb. 

To know that we are not alone in our recognition of the truth that makes us free is a darn good reason to be glad today! The Bible verse didn’t say, “I will be glad...” but "we will be glad." So, here’s a hearty hello to anyone who might read this. Let’s all be glad, even if we’re alone.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Happy Quitters Club

We’re not alone, we creatures that create artistically and then quit before getting snagged into success. I once knew a man who carved figures out of fine wood. His work, I’m sure, could have been featured in the best museums of the world but the few I saw were in his home. I asked him, “Have you attempted to show your work anywhere?” His answer as he turned away was simply, “No.” I didn’t pursue the question because I knew. He simply didn’t want to be famous. He had other things in life to seek out. Like kayaking around the Great Lakes, (which he did,) climbing mountains, (he did that too,) and other things I didn’t know about. “Success” would have deprived him of his freedom. Even money can do that.

I’m writing this blog’s first draft using my first big art project, The LapMaker. 
Lapboards were not something you could easily find in those days when we lived on a ranch in Oregon, and I had designed one that I thought would take the world by storm. It would be sleek, functional, and have an indestructible surface with a design depicting simply some Oregonian nature scene. A lake, a mountain, a river, a flower. Also each of the four designs had a poem reflecting its name, - LapMaker. With the help of a wood-craftsman and a silk screen artist I could produce them as fast as they sold. We’d all make a fortune! They came to the public in a few choice stores including one in Portland exclusively for Oregon art. 

The sales were disappointing, probably because I had to charge twice my basic expense in their manufacture. Soon bookstores  came out with cheap lapboards devoid of design but cushioned with a pillow. Probably made in China. They sold like hotcakes! So much for a monetary motive. My other motives, art, design, craftsmanship and imagination were not enough to make the effort a success. I kept a few, gave away some and simply quit making them.

Clay sculpting of faces and heads that look so real they make you think they’re people out of the past were my next endeavor. I did this just for fun without the thought of selling them. Finally, I tried selling some in a gallery. But I wouldn’t put my best ones there; I’d be selling my soul to put a dollar sign on these! “Faces From Somewhere In Time” drew impressed viewers but only one buyer in three months. Some woman was happy to part with $80. for a small face. A bare chance, I suppose, that she saw someone she’d once loved in that little face. How often was that to happen? As much joy as I’ve had sculpting I’ve quit, at least for now. The best ones hang in my bedroom, the next best have been given to relatives and friends. The ones who still claim a piece of my heart, the ones only a mother could love, are tucked away in a bottom drawer.

Writing has been a life-long pleasure to me and I did finish a book, a novel based on my life, had it published and sold about four hundred copies. But without more demand there was no use pursuing that. Maybe I’ll finish the memoir I started for my children someday, but I need to work up the ambition I left somewhere on a back road.

Why am I such a quitter? I think there are countless artists like me. We’re, simply put, turned off on success in a big way. Success is when we please ourselves. Worldly success would call upon sacrifice, dedication, the giving over of one’s life to something that could drain away the inspiration that started it. Like infatuation. Best to let it drift away while it’s fresh and fanciful than to let it grow stale and stern.

If there should be a Quitters Club I’m sure it’s not lacking for members. You may not know them because they don’t meet. They’re out somewhere enjoying themselves in other projects and plans. Or just chilling out somewhere alone.

My LapMaker lapboard is resting today. This post is in about its third draft. But the first fruits did fall into my lap. And on the surface of LapMaker #1. the first poem and the first design of a blue field blossom that grew in Oregon on a hill across from a Siskiyou foothill still speak to me. From the heart they say:

Make me a lap
to catch me a dream.
Don’t make me worry 
or struggle or scheme.

A dream doesn’t need me 
to lend it a hand.
Just make me a lap
where my dream can land.