Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Return to the Waltons

 
 
Some of my best blog ideas often come from everyday conversations.  Last week at the bus stop, I was talking to one of my grandson's neighbors.  She asked me if I lived with my son and daughter-in-law.  She and her husband came to the U.S. from India several years ago, and they were astonished that families lived separately from grandparents in this country.  She said the custom in India is that after marriage, the wife moves into her husband's home and their children are raised in that home.  As we talked, I realized how much life has changed in our own country through the years.  When I was growing up, my grandparents lived with us, as was the case with many grandparents.  Looking back through history, it seems the majority of families lived together or in close proximity; many of our historic homes have additions from different time periods because as the family expanded, new rooms were necessary.  In India, this must still be the custom, with close family bonds between the generations, aunts, uncles and cousins.




 
And, I thought, what a secure life this must be for children.  There is always someone at hand who is related to them, and cares deeply for them.  I know I was never left with a babysitter because my grandmother was always right there with me when my parents went out.  In modern society, children tend to move out of their parents' home as soon as they are financially independent; they very seldom live with their parents once they have children of their own, unless there are financial difficulties.  And this is life the way we know it. 
 
We were raised to be independent, and now, as grandparents, we are encouraged to be independent, active, and involved in the community at large.  Many grandparents are separated by long distances from their children and grandchildren.  We have come to accept this as the norm.  I value my independence, and would never choose to live with one of my children.  I dedicate many hours of each day to the care and guidance of my three little grandchildren, but I return home to my own quiet house in the evening.
 
Fortunately for the grandchildren of today, many grandparents are taking on the role of caregiver while parents work.  How much better for a child to be with a grandparent all day, with the security of unconditional love, than with a stranger, no matter how kind and loving he or she may be.  How wonderful for grandparents to share special everyday moments with these children of their children.
 
And, I wonder, was life better when families were closer in proximity or shared a family home? I'm sure there were arguments and issues to smooth over, but were they comforted by knowing the financial burdens of running a home did not fall on two parents alone?  Were the children happier and more secure being surrounded by loved ones?  Did shared labor make the chores less tedious and time consuming?  Were there always extra hands available to rock a teething baby, bathe a tired toddler, practice spelling words?  Was it easier to care for the elderly and the disabled when they were living under the same roof, and there were many family members to share the burden of their care each day?
 
I think maybe those were better times; however, I'm not certain that anyone would choose to go back to that way of life now.  Our generation raised our children to be independent and to follow their own paths, and they are happy with homes of their own, and the privacy to conduct their family lives the way they choose.  I am happy to take care of my grandchildren during the day, but still feel the need for quiet evenings to rest and enjoy my own pursuits.
 
And yet, I wonder -- do we work harder and stress more than necessary in the name of independence?  Do we value our independence too much to return to another way of life, even if it meant less stress?  What do you think?
 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

As Summer Gently Wanes --

 
  I love my hydrangeas when they first come into bloom -- so lacy and innocently white. Soon they become huge mounds of flowers streaked with dusty rose, filling my hands with their heaviness as I gather them to dry for autumn arrangements....  
There is so much beauty all around us in August, as flowers fill the air with a deeper, more musky scent, birdsong becomes more muted and peaceful, and darkness falls earlier each day, with a heaviness that reminds us that the days of summer are waning.

 
Yesterday morning I was roused from sleep by quiet little taps and flutters outside my window.  The sparrows were on the porch roof, pulling seeds from the spent Rose of Sharon blossoms and cracking them open to eat.  Suddenly, the flowers that were so beautiful and perfect just short days ago are wilting and going to seed.

Summer has seemed short here in the Northeast this year.  The long, cold winter seemed to linger much too long, and the warmth of summer was slow to arrive.  Due to changes in the school calendar last year, school was in session until the very last week in June, and reopens the first week in September, leaving us with an abbreviated summer vacation.  For those who love sunshine, heat and humidity, it was a disappointing time -- for me, the cooler temperatures were a blessing.

It was a summer of contradictions for me -- both very good times and very bad.  In July one of my daughter's best friends invited us to her lovely wedding.  How beautiful it was; how beautiful she was, and how much fun I had catching up with the lovely young women who once spent so much time with us, chattering about boys and activities.  It seems just a heartbeat ago that my house was filled with their laughter.  This was definitely one of the good times.

Another highlight was the engagement of my son's best friend to his long-time girlfriend.  I am so excited for both of them, and looking forward to their wedding next year.

But, then there was the sadness -- hearing of the death of an old friend.  She was in her 90's, and had been living in Texas for ten years, but we had kept in touch until recent months.  Her thoughtful nieces phoned all of her friends from far away, so we could say our last good-byes to her as she lay dying.  I will always be grateful to them for giving me this one last chance to tell her how much she meant to me.

Another long-time friend is fighting a battle with an aggressive form of cancer -- she was diagnosed early in the summer, and has been on my mind and in my prayers constantly.  She is bravely holding on for as much time as possible to spend with her family.  Her illness has felt like a cloud over my summer.

I had some worrisome health issues myself during much of the summer, with doctor appointments and tests; hopefully, though, this has been resolved, and I can put it behind me.

The news has been a constant source of dismay -- with the horrors of Ukraine, Iraq, Israel and Palestine, the missing airliner, the airliner shot down, the ongoing divisiveness and hatred in our own country, the increasingly powerful changes in climate.  We have come to the point where it seems almost impossible for people to compromise -- where do we go from here?  What will life be like for my precious grandchildren? 

And, there were also wonderful times with friends -- between my babysitting, and my own medical issues, I didn't have as much time as I had planned to spend with friends, but the wonderful memories of coffee dates, lunches, long talks, and precious time together have been a highlight of my summer.  There are still several people I want to see, but the days of summer are almost past, and I will probably have to put off some of these visits until school holidays. 

If anything, this summer has taught me to treasure each moment I can spend with friends and family, from family gatherings, to phone calls, to Facebook conversations.  I am a person who loves solitude -- the deep quiet of late summer evenings, working silently in my garden, reading, writing -- and it would be easy to forget how important it is to make time to tend as lovingly to friendships. 
 

This is the final full week of summer vacation.  Next week, school begins again, and my life will once more be filled with schedules and the needs of my little grandchildren.  I am thankful for this summer, with both its good times and sorrowful times.  I have spent this Sunday in quiet pursuits -- tending my garden, my birds, and my house.  I bought three small pots of chrysanthemums to place on my front porch steps -- how lovely they will look when they are in their full autumn bloom.  While I do wish summer had not passed so quickly, I find myself looking forward to autumn -- to the colorful trees, the scent of baking apples and pumpkin pie, the comfort of a much-worn sweater.  Ahhh - bittersweet August!!
 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Joy of Keeping a Journal

 



As I was browsing Facebook this morning, one of my friends shared a post about journaling, which sparked several comments, and was particularly interesting to me -- an obsessive writer.  My evening is not complete until I have spent a few quiet moments with my journal in hand, mulling over my day and writing down what seems to me to have been of some importance. 

When my children were young, and quiet time was rare, I did not have the luxury to keep a formal journal.  Money was tight, so my writings and musings were sporadically entered into loose leaf notebooks.  As I look through the many notebooks and pieces of paper, I realize that I did indeed find the time to write, but it was not a part of my daily routine.  How I wish I had chronicled the dailiness of raising children, and recorded the sweet moments of their lives in an orderly fashion.  There is so much I don't remember about those years.

In the late 1980's, when the demands of my children began to lessen, I started gardening and kept looseleaf notebooks filled with diagrams and information on what I had planted and how well things grew.  Sprinkled throughout these pages were paragraphs about the things that were happening in our lives at the time -- the illness and death of my father, the family parties, etc.  I continue with this garden journal today, but now the journal is a hardbound book, and my entries are not as technical they once were.   I write more about the joy of gardening and the seasonal changes each year.

In 2001, the death of my mother and the heart wrenching tragedy of 9/11, sent me to my journals with a new determination.  I finally bought hard-bound journals and began to spend some quiet time each day writing whatever seemed important or touched my heart.  Soon, I was pouring out my soul to these journals.  Not only is it cathartic to be able to look back on each day and sort out my feelings and worries, it also provides a history of sorts that I refer back to often.  Time passes so quickly; it is difficult to remember when some major event happened in our lives.  All I have to do is check my journal.  I keep them in an antique trunk, bound together by year; occasionally, I will take out a journal from several years ago and read it in its entirety. 

Both of my sons were married in the same year, and I started a special journal when they became engaged.  Now all of the lovely memories of those days are there waiting for me whenever I want to relive those happy times.  I also have a journal for each of my grandchildren.  I usually make an entry every few months, to record the special memories of my close relationship with them.

My daily time with my journal is very important to me.  So many lovely memories are held safely between the covers of these books, as well as times of heartbreak and sorrow.  This time alone, with pen in hand, offers me the chance to write down my feelings and put things into perspective. 


My mother kept a journal; I remember her writing in it now and then, and placing it back in her dresser drawer.  At some point in the last months of her life, though, she destroyed her journals.  She told me she was afraid that there might be things she had written that could hurt other people.  How I wish she had talked to my sister and me before she destroyed them.  I would cherish them now, with both her and my sister gone.  It would be like hearing her voice again.

As I have worked through the years on a family genealogy, I have realized that journals are a treasure.  There is only so much we can learn about our ancestors from birth and death records, photos, and other documents.  Reading their own thoughts in their own handwriting would be a tremendous gift. 

And so, I keep my own journals safely in their trunk.  Who knows what routes they may travel; years from now, a great-great grandchild may read one of them and gain insight into what life was like in my times, from my perspective.  My life has been an "ordinary" one, with no great accomplishments, but sometimes what we yearn to know about our ancestors is what their ordinary days were like.  Who knows, they may end up being thrown in the trash someday after I am gone and never passed on, but keeping these journals has been both a joy and a balm to my soul -- a lovely way to end each day.

 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Joy of Small Treats -- Confessions of a Hoarder

 
It all began this morning with an early morning trip to the grocery store.  With my marketing stored in the trunk, I headed for home.  On the way, I passed a small garage sale, with two large shelf units sitting on the lawn.  My granddaughter, Alivia, will be spending her days here with me this summer, and she and her cousins worked diligently last week to set up a small art space.  All that is missing is a small shelf unit.  Obviously, these two large pieces were too big, but a little hope lingered that there might be a smaller one somewhere midst the jumble of items.  I stopped the car and walked over.  My first mistake -- there was no shelving to fit the art space; however, once there, how could I possibly resist looking around a bit.  My eyes immediately fell on a unique spice rack -- tall bottles with tiny colorful vegetables and herbs as stoppers.  It was lovely, and perfect, and the last thing I needed in my already crowded old kitchen, but I took it into my hands and asked the cost.  One dollar, she said.  Now, who could possibly pass up a sweet little find like this for only one dollar???  It sits now, waiting to be carefully washed, dried and filled with herbs and spices, and I am in love with it.
 
I admit it -- I have a problem.  My house is filled with treasures such as this.  A few weeks ago, my father-in-law gifted me with a box of several old pieces of china from a set that belonged to his grandmother.  Excitedly I unwrapped each piece.  I know that there is more of this pattern packed away in a box in the attic.  I had taken several place settings when my in-laws sold their camp and passed around its contents. 
 

 
 
Anyone who knows me or has read my blog regularly knows that I have a penchant for old china.  Somewhere in the attic, I have a set that belonged to my grandmother; the china my mother used when I was a child is tucked away in a linen closet upstairs.  My china closets are filled with old family pieces -- a Fostoria cream & sugar set from a great-aunt, tiny salt cellars which were a wedding gift to my mother from a favorite relative, a pink Depression glass bowl and cake plate from my husband's great aunt.  The list goes on and on.  As do the sets of china -- two bought at estate sales, one delicate old set with butter pats and ramekins from a close friend now gone from my life, and my precious Old Country Roses set which I spent years collecting bit by bit, whenever I could find a piece on sale.  Oh yes -- I definitely have a problem!!

 
 
And then, a few weeks back, I began longing for a sewing machine.  The one I had used through the years for sewing curtains, Halloween costumes, dresses, etc, etc. had broken down beyond repair a couple of years ago.  While I was never a great seamstress, I found that I really missed having a machine.  I missed the feel of the fabric as it ran through my fingers, and the gentle whir of the motor as we turned flat material into something of substance.  How I wanted to sew again.  But, the cost of a new machine on my limited income was out of the question.  Fortunately, one of my friends told me she had purchased an older Singer model at an estate sale awhile back, that was supposedly in working condition.  She said I could take it home and make sure it worked before I paid her for it.  And so I did.  I cleaned it and oiled it, and read the manual carefully.  It is a wonderful machine -- a 1969 Singer that still works like a charm.  And now, I can finally savor the pleasure of the gently whirring motor as I create again.
 
Last week, as I was telling my father-in-law the story of the sewing machine, he said he had an old Singer portable that I might like -- not in working condition -- but maybe I would like it.  How could I refuse.  We went down into his packed basement (he, too, has a house filled with beloved family heirlooms and other items with which he just can't bear to part) and found the old case resting midst his treasures.  We carried it upstairs and he opened the case; I was immediately in love.  This machine is a beauty.  I brought it home and cleaned it up a bit -- rubbing it with olive oil to bring out the beautiful design and the scrollwork on its face. From the scrollwork design, I believe it is from the 1930's.  Now it sits in a place of honor on a little table in my library nook.  How I love it!!  And to think, it has been sitting in its little case in the basement for years -- calling my name -- and I never knew it. 
 


Oh yes, I do have a problem!!  I can't resist beautiful old things.  At a time in life when I should be downsizing, I am still collecting.  As my eyes light on one of my precious little treasures, though, I feel such happiness and contentment.  And, I especially love the family heirlooms -- how fortunate I feel to be safeguarding them for the generations to come who may treasure them as I do.  And so, that is why this morning I absolutely could not leave that sweet little spice rack sitting alone -- it has brought me pleasure all day.  I am reminded of a beautiful quote by Iris Murdoch:

"One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats."
 
And I guess that maybe my "problem" is also the source of much of my happiness and contentment.  Hooray for small treats!!
 



Sunday, June 15, 2014

To Daddy With Love



On this Fathers' Day morning, I sit in my chair, sipping coffee, and thinking of my father.  He has been gone from my life now for twenty-two years, and unfortunately, many of my memories are of his last few years of life as he slowly deteriorated from emphysema.  It always seemed like a cruel trick of fate as I watched him struggle for breath when he had not smoked since I was a young girl.  He had worked long hours every week as an auto mechanic and looked forward to retirement, but his health began its long decline shortly before he retired, and he was never able to really enjoy the pleasures of this long-awaited time of life.

Our relationship had never been one of the lovely "Daddy's Girl" stories.  From babyhood I seemed to annoy him a bit.  He tried to not show it, but I could tell, especially after my sister was born.  She was much more like him -- quiet, reserved in her emotions, self-sufficient -- while I was talkative, boundlessly affectionate, and emotionally needy. 

And yet, he was the "rock" in my young life -- tall, strong, handsome and always in control.  He disciplined with wise words and an even temper.  He could fix anything, build anything, and protect us from everything.  I always felt safe when Daddy was home -- let the thunder crash and lightning fill the skies -- it was okay if he was there.

In the early years, there was very little money for extras in our lives.  By the time I was a teenager, though, we had bought a home of our own, and he was able to spend the little leisure time he had in new pursuits.  He put a swimming pool in the backyard, tilled up a huge area for his beloved vegetable garden, and built a dark room in the basement, bought a camera, and began a new photography hobby.  He showed me how wonderful it is to possess many skills and pursue a variety of interests.


From my earliest years, he taught me that it was better to be yourself and follow your own dreams -- that being happy with what you were doing was the greatest success.  He showed me that finding solace in nature and solitude was true joy.  As a tall, chubby, socially inept teenager, his sound advice carried me through the agonies of high school life.

I have always wondered how it would feel to be a cherished "Daddy's girl," but I realize that I am probably a stronger and more independent person because of the lessons I learned from my father, and that is enough.  I knew he loved me; it was just not in his nature to hug and kiss and cuddle his little girls.  Unfortunately, it was in the last year of his life, when he was so sick and dependent, that I finally felt a strong bond form between us as I helped care for him.  It was his appreciation of the simplest things I did -- scrambling eggs in the morning, moving his nebulizer back and forth between his bed and his chair in the living room, sitting quietly beside him -- that linger in my memory as special moments of love between us. 

And so, on this Fathers' Day, I will choose to hold close the memories of that young, tall, handsome man with the easy smile whose strength  and love made my world a safe and happy place to be.  Happy Fathers' Day, Daddy -- until we are together again.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Road Not Taken



I was recently browsing through some old blog posts, and came across one which I wrote in June 2008.  I would like to dedicate it to all of the grandparents who provide care for their grandchildren while their parents are at work.  You are bestowing a priceless gift --

And, here is the original:


We sit at the kitchen table, morning sunlight filtering through the leaves of the maple trees, as I give Alivia bites of banana and place scrambled eggs on her tray. I am dressed in Capri pants and a soft, worn T-shirt, with my hair freshly washed and dried. A typical weekday morning. Then Alivia’s other grandmother drops in – wearing a stunning summer dress with a silver pendant, her hair coiffed attractively, looking every bit the executive she is. She breezes in and out, on her way to work, and I think of the road not taken.

I could so easily have been in her shoes – the important career woman with a long resume and impressive credentials. Instead, I sit here today, working in my home office trying to manage a family business that has suffered tremendous shock from today’s economy, while my ten-month old granddaughter plays at my feet.

In many ways this is déjà vu for me. I became a mother at the precipitous moment when women began joining the workforce in droves. Then, I was young and idealistic, and the thought of sending my precious babies to day care was abhorrent. I spent 27 years at home, raising my three children, working hard at an assortment of drab occupations which could be performed from home. I no longer take part in the old “Mommy Wars” – I have seen a generation of children grow up with both at-home mothers and working mothers, and believe that, for the most part, the determining factor in a child’s life is having a loving mother of any kind.

However, when I look into the innocent eyes of my grandbabies, I cannot imagine handing them over to strangers each morning.

As we raise children, the change from totally dependent infant to self-sustaining adult is so gradual we hardly notice as each stage ends. By the time my youngest daughter graduated from high school, I was already on my way to a life of newfound freedom. For several years I prided myself on the speed and accuracy with which I did my job in the family business, on my well-kept house filled with warmth and beauty, and on my lovely flower gardens. I began a genealogy of my family which required many hours of research and writing. My hours were filled with enjoyable pursuits and I was amazed at my accomplishments at the end of each day.

Of course, I longed for grandchildren; I envisioned myself as a doting grandmother who would play with my grandchildren, read to them, teach them about nature and be a loving and gentle force in their lives. I hoped their mothers would be able to stay at home with them.

Reality set in a few months before Alivia was born. My daughter-in-law had to go back to work when Alivia was 8 weeks old, and decisions had to be made about her care. Of course, I volunteered to care for her – how could I do anything else, when being home with my own children had been such a priority in my life. Then, a month after Alivia was born, we found that my other daughter-in-law was pregnant; she, too, will have to return to work at the end of the summer. And so began the latest phase of my life.

I had forgotten the demanding world of babies – my youngest is 24 years old, and the memories of her first two years had become rosy and blurred by time. The reality of feeding, burping, changing, rocking, and walking a crying baby were a mild surprise. However, I easily slipped back into this slower, gentler way of life. My work piles up on the desk as I rock my sleepy Alivia and sing to her, to be rewarded by her huge smile and wet kisses when she wakes up. At ten months old she has become a charmer, and I am so glad that I made the decision to care for her – the bond we share is a blessing and her laughter lights up my life.

Yesterday I snuggled my newborn grandson, Lucas, as Alivia played on the floor and his mother and I talked. He has changed so much in his first three weeks of life; his solemn eyes gazed into mine, and I felt the immense responsibility of caring for these precious babies, who so innocently give us their complete trust and love. Being cared for by a grandmother who loves them beyond expression will certainly be the next best thing to being home with their Moms. My days next year will be filled with baby needs and toddler antics, and most of my office work will be done in the evening after they have gone home.

Obviously, the day-to-day care of babies is a physically demanding task for a 57-year old grandmother. Gone are my days of efficiency and accomplishment, but they are replaced with the secure feeling that I am giving my grandchildren what they need most right now – a loving, supportive, safe environment. I will be able to pass on the important values so necessary in today’s greedy world of self-absorption and instant gratification.

So, as I wave Alivia’s other grandmother off to her adult world of work and gather my precious banana-covered baby into my arms, I feel only a tinge of envy; the warmth of these little arms wrapped around my neck and the precious giggles in my ear more than make up for the road not taken.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

May - The Month of Transformation

 
If I were asked what my favorite flower of May is, I would most certainly answer, "lilacs."  Today, after working diligently in the garden for much of the morning, digging up an older section to separate out weeds and grasses that had become tightly interspersed with my thyme and sage, I relaxed a bit by cutting some lilacs.  Lilacs are sparse in my shady yard, so they are a special treat to me.  I carried my armful into the porch and laid them gently on the little iron table while I went to find a vase.  Their sweet scent quickly filled the porch, and they looked so lovely jumbled together on the table, I just had to take a photo. 
 
Our winter was especially cold and long this year, and I was terribly impatient to get the gardens raked out and finally watch the little green shoots grow into flowers and greenery.  By the end of April, there were signs of life again.  Along the path spiderwort and bleeding hearts were sprouting leaves, and the barberry bushes were once again circling the maple tree.  Once the growing season begins, the garden changes daily.  The photo on the left was taken in late April, and the one on the right was taken one drizzly morning in mid-May.  How striking the difference.  Within three short weeks, the bleeding hearts were lush and flowery; the lily of the valley and ferns under the maple tree were thriving, the hostas growing larger daily, the raspberry canes now had leaves, and the Solomon's seal in the back garden were in bloom.  What a miracle we witness in the first few weeks of May.

Not only do we see this transformation in our own gardens, it seems the entire town is suddenly filled with the beautiful colors of spring.  Feathery little green leaves appear on the trees in our neighborhoods, and soon become a green canopy.  The flowering trees suddenly paint our landscape with shades of pink, purple, white.  The dogwoods, crabapples, magnolias, and weeping cherries line our streets and provide breathtaking, but short-lived beauty.  The lovely colors seem to appear almost overnight, and are gone within a week or so as the green leaves appear.
 
 
All too soon May will be over, and many of its flowers will disappear also, but we are left with the anticipation of June roses, and the multitude of new garden beauties which nature will bestow each month.  Finally, spring is really here; May has proven to us once more that there is indeed a rhythm to our seasons.  Our earth has woken from its long winter slumber, and May is most certainly the month of the most wild and vivid transformation of all.