Christmas Touchstones

“We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past, like ancient stars that have burned out, are no longer in orbit around our minds. There are just too many things we have to think about every day, too many new things we have to learn. New styles, new information, new technology, new terminology … But still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us forever, like a touchstone.” 

Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Memories of Christmas past find their way into my head this time of year.

I bet you have some of the same ones crowding into your mind these days–

  • Growing up in Iowa, every year we prayed for a white Christmas. One of my favorite memories is the year the forecast called for no snow. As I walked into Midnight Mass late that night, I prayed for snow. As we turned to leave the church that very early Christmas morning, the doors opened onto a scene of white. Snow had been steadily fallen for some time, covering the trees and the ground with snow that looked like crushed diamonds. The air was quiet and calm–the silence enveloped us all in a blanket of peace. This is my favorite Christmas moment.
  • Today was the last day of school here in our neighborhood. I had to laugh, remember leaving school for Christmas break and telling everyone we’d see each other next year.
  • Getting ready for our school Christmas program and getting to wear my Mom’s red lipstick. I felt absolutely beautiful.
  • Going to Midnight Mass with my family and resting my head on my Mom’s shoulder as we sang Silent Night together.
  • The year my mom died, we went to Midnight Mass, came home to eat chili and open presents. This year when we woke up Christmas morning, we discovered we all had new gifts under the tree. I still don’t know where all these gifts came from but they were an extra special boost to three kids spirits that year.
  • As a young adult, singing Silent Night with my friends and co-workers before we left our neighborhood bar and headed home for the holiday. Because of the memories I have about this song, Silent Night always makes me cry.
  • Remembering that first Christmas with family and friends after moving far from home. That first Christmas back home taught me the true meaning of Christmas joy.

As Christmas draws near, set aside a little extra time to be with those you love. When I look at my list of remembered things, I don’t see any gifts mentioned. All those special memories revolve around time spent with people–people I’d give anything to have the chance to spend time with today.

As some of us still search for that perfect gift, stop all the rushing. Pack away your phone and give those you love those extra moments of your undivided attention.

That is the gift that will be remembered–always–and most likely get better with age.

“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.” 

Bob Hope

I am…

B…simply being…

~Peace~

 

Our Trees

“There are rich counsels in the trees.”
― Herbert P. Horne

As I kid, I escaped to the trees in our front yard—they were my trees.

My trees were an important a part of my life. They never asked questions or criticized what I said or thought. They provided one of my safest hiding places, they were my protectors, supporting me when I needed a place to go.

The last time I drove by my old house, those two trees were gone. I knew there would be changes in the old neighborhood, I wasn’t ready for such visual evidence of all the years that had passed since I’d been there. I sighed and cried.

Yes, those crabapple trees were messy. I’m sure those who lived in our old house after we left hated them as much as my dad did. Every year I’d hear him swear under his breath as he shook his head, telling me he was going to cut them down next year. He was tired of dealing with those little slippery crab apples that covered the front yard and sidewalk for the majority of the summer and fall.

As I’ve aged, my love for trees has grown. We planted new trees at our house in Colorado living there long enough to see them become large, healthy trees. Moving to Texas has given me the gift of the oak trees. I’ve fallen in love with them. Now, Michael and I have oak trees to nurture–the centerpieces of the lot we just added to our property. The lot has been cleared and we are now attending to the trees. On Monday, we will have an arborist help us trim and clean up these amazing trees. I cannot wait to see how beautiful they will be after some knowledgeable care and attention.

Last weekend we spent a few hours cleaning up the yard. When it was time to call it a day, we each opened a cold one, pulled up a couple of lawn chairs, and sat under the canopy of our trees. For both of us, it was about as close to heaven on earth we’d ever experienced–sitting side-by-side–sheltered under our trees as the wind gently whispered through their weathered boughs.

“Listen to the trees as they sway in the wind.
Their leaves are telling secrets. Their bark sings songs of olden days as it grows around the trunks. And their roots give names to all things.
Their language has been lost.
But not the gestures.”
― Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

I am…

B…simply being…

God bless and have a wonderful weekend.

~Peace~  

Worth a Thousand Words

“Snow is…a beautiful reminder of life and all its quirks. It makes me pause. Think. Stay still. Even my mind takes the hint. It makes me feel giddy. Like a kid. I bring my hot cocoa to the window and simply sit and reminisce…It brings me back to days of school cancellations and snow igloos and King of the Mountain games in my childhood neighborhood…That for this one moment in time, I’m not an adult with all the headaches that can accompany that responsibility, but instead, I’m still the girl in pigtails with the handmade hat and mittens, just waiting to build her next snowman.”
― R.B. O’Brien

Do you ever stumble upon an old picture and find yourself transported back to that very spot?

The picture I found today has extra transporting powers because it has so much to share about so many things from this time in my life–the happy days of my childhood.

What a gift to have the time to actually study some of these old photos. In this picture, Gram is holding my cousin, Johnny and my sister, Beth. I am in the immediate foreground of the picture–a position I hold by way of declaring it be so, I am sure. My ear to ear grin tells me I was thrilled to be seated close to the woman I adored.

It appears Mom had been busy with those home perm kits–both Beth and I have some pretty sassy looking curls.

As I gaze, my senses come alive with memories.

I can feel the coarse fabric of the big armchair, the ridges and valleys of the leaf design would leave firm impressions on any body part pressed against them for even a short period of time. This chair and the matching coach were prominent fixtures in our living room throughout my early childhood.  The arms of both pieces of furniture were broad enough to support all three of us girls when our grandparents, aunts, and uncles came for a visit. I still remember squirming my upper body back and forth so I could get as close to them as possible.

The ever-present ashtray was never far from Gram’s reach, a burning cigarette held within the little, indented glass edges. Her etched handbag nearby as well, holding her peppermint candies, embroidered hankies, and an extra pack of cigarettes. It looks like Gram had filled the candy dish beside the lamp. This subtle observation may be another reason I am sporting such a big grin.

I have always loved palm tree prints. As I evaluate this image, I am no longer surprised at that fondness. This was our living room, a place where we all gathered to talk, watch TV, or recover on the coach during those childhood bouts with measles, chicken pox, and mumps. Between the three of us, we battled pretty much every childhood illness.

The black box on the wall on the right side of the photo was some sort of control to the coal burning furnace–I think. I remember there were three different chains that you could pull that did something to the furnace or the venting system. I was repeatedly told NOT to pull them–which meant pulling them became my everyday goal and obsession.

I imagine this picture was taken about sixty years ago. What a wonderful cluster of memories to take with me into the weekend.

May Y’all find some of your own.

“Don’t you wish you could take a single childhood memory and blow it up into a bubble and live inside it forever?”
― Sarah Addison Allen, Lost Lake

I am…

B…simply being…  

God bless.

~Peace~

 

 

The Yellow Slicker

My husband has a yellow jacket that always makes me smile. Every time I see him slip it on, I think of being on the safety patrol when I was in sixth grade.

My School Safety Patrol card is another one of those things that surprised me by surviving fifty plus years stuck in little corners of big boxes. I have misplaced dozens of things over the years but this little card somehow held on to its space.

As sixth graders, we were the class that “manned” the safety patrol. That meant at noon and at the end of the day, kids from our class were sent to guard crosswalks around the school. I volunteered because I would have time away from the classroom. That was just too much to resist.

What I did not think about as I enthusiastically threw my hand up in the air that first week of school, was the weather. This was Iowa. Sure, at the beginning of the school year the weather was perfect. Before long, the warm Indian Summer and windy Fall days turned into the blustery, cold days of Winter. Like mail delivery, safety patrol guards could not be deterred by the weather. Rain, sleet, or snow, we headed out to our posts. To protect us from those elements, the school had a number of bright yellow slickers. These rubber slickers felt and smelled ancient. Heaven only knows how old they were but we HAD to wear them when we went out in the rain.

As lunchtime got closer and closer on my day for patrol, I watched the sky get darker and darker. The rain started falling harder and the temperature fell.  As my fellow patrol person and I left to go to our posts, we were told to wear those yellow slickers.

“Be careful,” Mrs.Kvidera told us, “with it getting colder, it could be getting icy.”

I walked to the locker, grabbed the crunchy yellow jacket, pulled the hood up, and walked toward the front door. Mr. Lenth, the school superintendent, and a teacher were standing at the entryway, observing and discussing the quickly changing weather. I nodded my head, the stiff and scratchy hood falling across my eyes as my legs pushed against the heavy rubberized coat. I was concentrating on walking against that added weight while constantly adjusting the stubborn hood.

I pushed the heavy door open and headed outside. As my foot hit the wet pavement, I felt it slip. I was moving too fast to stop. My other foot never made contact. Before I knew it, I was on my back. That yellow slicker was exactly that–slick! In a mass of crackling yellow, I was propelled across the sidewalk, down a little asphalt hill that was the side parking lot, and under a bus.

I looked up to see the teacher and Mr. Lenth looking down on me, saying in unison, “Looks like we need to end school early today.”

They helped me up, brushed me off, and sent me back to class. Shortly after, an overhead announcement declared due to weather, school was dismissed.

So, the little card survived to remind me of a time when I fell–literally–and was helped up by the kindness of others. There are times when we all need that type of gentle reminder.

You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call “failure” is not the falling down, but the staying down. 

Mary Pickford

I am…

B…simply being…

Remember, ask for help if you need it.

I love you.

Peace

 

 

 

 

 

Ronnie​

When I was young, a large part of my summer was spent at my grandparents. Knowing that was one of the best parts of the last day of school–I began counting down the days until I would be in little kid heaven.

I’m not sure who was more excited, my Grandma, my cousin Donna, or me? My Grandpa was working most of the time as a janitor/handyman for the owners of their apartment building which left my Grandma alone a lot of the time. Even though Donna was living with my grandparents full-time, she was not around much. She was working full-time at Woolworth’s as a waitress so she could save money for her late summer wedding.

The only person who was NOT excited about my being there was Donna’s fiance, Ronnie. Because I was there for a short amount of time, Donna’s goal was to see me as much as possible and keep me happy.

These goals did not bid well for Ronnie.

In order to keep some peace with her soon to be husband, Donna and I planned out our time carefully. Before she left for work, we would decide what time I would come to Woolworth’s and share fries and a coke. This summer was the first time I had ever had fries and a coke. I was feeling so very grown up–like a teenager, for sure.  After dinner, she’d promised, I could go with her and Ronnie for ice cream.

How could any kid be unhappy with those plans?

One of the neatest things about my grandparent’s apartment building was the fact it had a fire escape. Not only was it super cool looking, in a kinda creepy way, but people used it. Up and down the back of the red brick building, the jointed black staircase was broken into porches, little gardens with flower pots, and clothes lines.  This stairway was also very functional.  It connected the people in that building to a very busy back alley.

It was this alley Ronnie used as his personal driveway. Every evening he would pull up and honk for Donna to come join him. His chivalry was the point of many arguments between my cousin and my grandparents–an argument she rushed to avoid the last evening of my visit, by quickly jumping onto the window sill and out to the landing.

Try as I might, I was much slower than she–a point, I’m sure, only endeared me more to Ronnie.  His honks grew in length and in number–an action which only increased my anxiety about being on a mass of iron suspended off the side of this very tall building. As I dashed downward, I began to smell the rust and oil of the iron railings coming off onto my sweaty hands, I heard louder squeaks and moans from each landing and sets of steps as I ran across and down them, and, with an odd sense of relief, I felt the generalized sway of the entire structure as it seemed to push me off and onto the alley below.

I’d made it.

Tonight Ronnie had his new car–a red and white convertible–the top was down. I scrambled in as he stepped on the gas and we raced, music blaring, down the alley and out to get my ice cream. It was my last night and we were celebrating!

Some of us much more than others.

My order for the night–a LARGE cone–make it a twist, please.

We all should have seen it coming.

It was summer. It was hot. The top was down and we were driving because Ronnie was tired of waiting for me. I was a kid with a large, melting, ice cream cone. I was sitting in the front seat–between them, naturally, when they pulled up to drop me off.

I knew I had used up all of Ronnie’s patience. I was going fast to get out of the car–the brand new car. Before anyone could offer to help me, I sat my still very large, now melting more ice cream cone, on the dash–over the speaker–

In slow motion, that large melting mass of ice cream toppled over–the mound of ice cream oozed onto and into the speaker, down the dash, over the radio, and drizzled onto the floor.

Crickets–all around me–I heard crickets.

As I was running, I heard Donna say something like…it’s her last night….

I did not have time to worry about anything as I escaped upward.

As you can see by the photo, the wedding did take place….without any help from me.

I am…(now hungry for ice cream)

B…simply being…

Love and peace, Y’all.

 

 

 

 

 

Reading

I have been reading a LOT lately.

I’d like to think that I read to learn something. I know better than that. I read so I can delay doing my own writing. Lately, the words do not come easily and I fumble with what and where I begin this and every story.

I finished Katey Sagal’s memoir, Grace Notes, this morning. I did not know who Katey Sagal was when I began this book. Now, I feel like I found an ally–a kind and warm confidant who knows and understands so many things–one of those people I mentioned yesterday–people you don’t have to say much because they just understand–they get it.

I loved her book. I took my time reading it. She joined me for morning coffee and in the evenings, she came by to talk as I had a glass or two of wine. I read her words very carefully. So many things were shared so openly and honestly. The two of us had many one on one therapy sessions. The book may be closed but those stories seem to have a life of their own.

Ms Sagal, I wish I could sit on my front porch with you. Tell you, face to face, how much you taught me while validating so many parts of my own story.

Thank you for writing your book. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself. There are many powerful things I noted so I could think about them later. A few of the earlier notes/quotes:

“Growing up, I had found a way to survive the empty spaces in my family and in myself, to not look too closely at my external or internal circumstances.” 

“Act as if…God forbid somebody thinks I don’t know it all–constantly acting as if…”

“…I became a chameleon-like, morphing into what or who was in my world. Taking on the traits of others in hopes of bumping into me. As a result, for years, I thought I was you…”

“The cost of having a mother die too young and a father work too much. There is no one to mirror, and so you don’t know how to be who you are.” 

Yes, my friends, she pretty much nailed it.

I am…

B…simply being…

Love y’all.

Peace

 

 

 

Musings

I’ve had some extra time this week to think about things. What that usually means is I take long walks into my past. This week was no exception. There are some things back there that have always puzzled me. I found some unusual help this time though, from “The Royals.”

I have been running from myself for most of my life. When Prince Harry and his brother, Prince William, began talking about their mother, Diana, a switch turned on for me. I found, and continue to find, great comfort in their words when they talk about the struggles they have had in their lives after her death. Whenever Prince Harry speaks,  his words give me chills. It appears we had and have some of the same challenges. By speaking out he gave me a very valuable gift–he opened the door for me to speak of my own challenges. I am grateful for that.

I grew up in a little town in northeast Iowa. My family was not from there originally, a fact that I think was hard for my mom. Looking back on life’s events as an older adult gives me such a different perspective of things. My mom had been a single working woman, living at home with her parents, until she was 27 years old. She thought she was an old maid. She often told me how she met my dad at a dance. She said she knew when she met him he was special but did not think he was ever going to ask her to marry him. Looking back, that is the only story she ever shared with me about her days as a single woman. Of course, I was so young I would not have understood much more than that. She never had a chance to share more–she was dead by the time I was ten, my younger sister eight, and my youngest sister, six. That, my friends, is the tip of the iceberg.

I only have a kid’s memory of so many things. Our small community had its share of tragedies during this time. The most significant one I remember is that a classmate of mine’s mother died after being in a car accident. I think we were in second grade so we were probably seven years old. I had to be at school early that morning–I was in trouble for having a messy desk and was supposed to come in and clean it out. When I got to my room, my teacher was not there so I went looking for her. I found everyone in the room next door all standing in the front of the class room. They were talking softly about a car accident. One teacher said that the doctors did not think that my friend’s mom was hurt very badly. They were wrong, she said.  My classmates mom had died earlier that morning from a head injury that had not been detected. Lots more whispers.

I stood there thinking, how can that be? Moms don’t die.

In my mind, I see exactly where I was standing that day–how the soft morning sunlight came through the windows, illuminating the desktops, reflecting off chalk dust that was always flying through the air. The huddle of teachers remained close together in the front of the room. I remained invisible. Yes, they said, she had been hit from behind. You know, they said, it’s that bad spot out on the highway where so many other accidents had happened. Well, it’s been icy, they said, so she had a cement block in the back of her car for traction. When she was hit, they said, it flew and hit her head…

No one noticed as I turned and quietly walked out of the room. Oh, so many questions I carried out with me that day.

I wonder if my friend, my classmate from so many years ago, has any of the same questions I do? Does Prince Harry comfort her as he speaks of his demons? Do my other friends who also lost their moms when they were young feel the way I do–like you’ve always been a little lost? Always searching for something…

The month of May has always has been a time when I question so many things. I’ve sidestepped them for many, many years. Now it is time calm my demons by writing about them. If Prince Harry helped me, maybe I can help someone else?

This part of my life made me, me.

I am

B…simply being…

Wishing you all love and peace.

 

 

 

An introduction to…me…

These pages are about me. In reality, I am still trying to figure out just who “me” really is and why I am the “me” I have evolved into being.

I am a baby boomer, born September 25, 1953. I was the first-born child–and I have every personality characteristic of the first born. My parents married fairly late–one of the few stories I remember my mom telling me was the fact that everyone said she was going to be an “old maid.” She married my dad when she was 27 years old, my dad 32.

They met while working at the Montgomery Ward store in Fort Dodge, Iowa. They were married on Valentine’s Day–something I found to be terribly romantic. Afer they married, they moved to Kokomo, Indiana, where I was born. I think being that far away from her family was very hard on my mom. This put a lot of stress on their relationship and they moved back to Iowa shortly after I was born. My dad found a job in Traer, Iowa, where he managed the Farmers Lumber Yard for many years.

All through my childhood, our family faced many challenges. We also had incredible blessings. This was all part of time when things were rarely discussed and family secrets abounded.  All of this was a set up for future problems.

Because I was the oldest, I was given many privileges which came with the expectation I would assume more responsibilities. The fact that I was just a young kid did not alter those expectations. A fact I have worked to understand most of my life. These are the stories I will share. The Clint Eastwood movie, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly comes to mind.

Life is not always the shining success story you want to eagerly share–which is exactly why it is important to do so.

I wish you all a very restful night.

I am

B…simply being…

Peace and love to all.