Thursday, February 25, 2016

YOU KNOW IT’S A GOOD DAY WHEN . . .


·         You go shopping and find your favorite parking spot is ready and waiting.

·         You get inside and your cart is the one without the squeak. (I’ve heard there’s one in every store, but not sure that’s a reliable statement.)

·         The items on your list are all available . . . . in the size you want, the quantity you need, and at the price you expected to pay. Even, sometimes, on sale!

·         You get the cashier you like best—chat while you go through the check-out process, exchange smiles—leave the store with your attitude well preserved.

·         You get home in less time than usual, put away your purchases, and discover you have leisure to drink a cup of coffee before heading out to your next event.

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If you don’t have the above good fortune, don’t immediately conclude that it’s going to be a Bad Day. Unh-unh. Nope. Nada. Even one good thing happening can steer your mood in the bright direction.

Another point to consider—if there’s even one baddie in your day, that doesn’t color the whole 24 hours. Forget the saying about one bad apple spoils the whole barrel—just toss the bad apple and let the others breathe.

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My recent experiences on a Good Day, included the above shopping, knitting with my friend, a trip to the library, and visiting with my daughter on her supper break.

While we knitted, my friend told me about movies she and her family had watched over the weekend. One was Max, about the dog of a Marine who is killed. It sounded like my kind of movie, so when I went to the library, I asked about it. Yes, they have it but it’s checked out; may I put you on the list? Of course you may.

I’d returned two novels to the library, then rummaged through the fiction shelves for two other authors (not read before): William Kent Krueger, who wrote a much-acclaimed coming-of-age novel called Ordinary Grace; and Dennis Lehane, who writes a PI series set in Boston that I haven’t read. Found both, picked out the first of the Lehane series, and went down to the circulation desk. Next thing I knew, there was a third book on my stack—a new arrival that I’d put on hold had come in. Serendipity! I now had three big unread books to tide me over during the snow/cold/wind to come the next few days.

After my supper, I gathered up some magazines for my daughter and her friends at work and drove to Butler, about 12 miles away. We had a good visit. I found out the state of her broken ankle and toe—healing but not quite there yet—and learned she can now be on her feet longer per hour. Before I left to come home, she gave me a little storage box of cream of celery soup she had made. (I ate it yesterday for lunch. Wow! Good stuff!)

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Yes, definitely a Good Day.

Yesterday we got dumped on with a heavy wet snow plus freezing rain, all enhanced by strong winds gusting up to unbelievable miles-per-hour. I poked my head outside twice—to put a birthday card out for a friend of mine and to get the mail after the delivery. I was entertained by library books, a sewing project for another daughter’s birthday, the blog of William Kent Krueger, and writing about Tuesday.

We may not get the Plus days as often as we’d like. We can celebrate like crazy when we do. We may not have rainbows and and butterflies and flowers. But I know for a fact that birds are out singing in the early morning (also an event  on Tuesday). 

(And remember, don’t let the Minus days get the better of you. There’s likely to be a kernel of good in there somewhere. Look for it.)

 Today's more of the snowing, blowing, winter advisory stuff. So? It's winter! Spring is coming, so hold that thought while you hole up in your den with a good book.





Thursday, February 18, 2016

LIFE CHANGING EVENTS

I owe a debt of gratitude to Liz Flaherty for a recent blog post on WordWranglers. She shared life-changing moments or events with readers and invited them to share their own.

Since I seldom jump right into anything without mulling it over, wrassling it around, and pummeling it into shape, I didn’t come up with my own list until several days later. Since then I’ve pared the list to three:

·         October 1955 when I found out my mother was dying
·         February 1960 when I gave birth to my first child
·         March 2006 when I retired from 29 consecutive years in a law office

Each of these marked the beginning of a new life for me.

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One October evening in 1955, I was riding with my Aunt Virginia and her husband to a city an hour from our home—we were on our way to visit my mom who had just had surgery and was recuperating enough to be able to return to Charleston where I lived with my dad.

As we traveled through the dark night, Aunt Virginia told me that my mother would not live much longer. The cancer had progressed too far. The reason she was telling me, she said, was so I’d be prepared and not break down when I went into the room to see my mom.

I’ve always been glad it was Aunt Virginia who told me; she was my favorite aunt, my mother’s youngest sister, and had been with Mom when I was born. In the nearly fifteen years I’d known her, she had always showed me love and acceptance. The news I’d just heard wasn’t good, but it was compassionately shared.

Though we didn’t know it then, I would have six months to make the transition from teenager to fledgling adult. In some ways, a too-soon adult in a teenage body. The mental shift took a long time: No mom to share my school day news with—no siblings also grieving—a silent father who, I suspected, was also grieving, even though he had remarried after the divorce.

Eventually I turned to writing because it was a place where I could commune with myself about what I felt and experienced. During the next couple of years I wrote a lot of poetry and a few short stories. This period of my life marked the beginning of a life in the written word—and writing as a way of healing.

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In February 1960 I was given another opportunity to grow—my first child was born. I named her for my mother.

In a very short time—hours, maybe a couple of days—I learned that I didn’t know the first thing about being a mom. I had no friends having babies, no sisters or sisters-in-law, no cousins my age with kids (or if I did, they lived too far away and I seldom saw them).

No mommy blogs—though the few I’ve read make motherhood sound like a romp in the park. For example: baby with earache screaming in the night? Piece o’ cake! Refusal to drink milk or eat cereal? Par for the course. Diarrhea? So what! (I‘m glad there were no such blogs when I was a young mom—I’d’ve felt even more inadequate than I did.)

In time I learned to go with the flow (along about Child No. 3, I think). Not every aberration was life-threatening; the doctor’s phone number was right by the phone; and eventually I found another mom (also with a first child) who had nieces and nephews to learn on, so she helped me weather First Baby Syndrome.

I’m pleased to report that my firstborn is alive and well in Arizona, teaching at Northern Arizona University and finishing her Ph.D. dissertation.

Her three siblings all grew up, developed their own personalities and interests, and—this may be a shock to some readers—the four of them get along well, visit by phone and email, and actually enjoy getting together when they can. (They live in Arizona, Ohio, Indiana, and Minnesota.)

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My most recent life shift came in March 2006 when I retired from 29 years in a law office as a paralegal. I worked one more year as a contract worker to assist the woman, already a seasoned employee at the office, to settle into the kind of work I had done. My assistance was scarcely necessary after the first couple of months, but I continue to visit Emily and eat lunch with her a couple times a week while we knit our various projects.

The biggest adjustment to retirement was how to handle my time—I had so much time! After I went to the Y, had breakfast, and swallowed a handful of pills/vitamins/supplements, I was free to—well, do whatever. There was a pretty strenuous learning curve to this process. If I had no plan, not much got done; if I had a too-firm plan, a lot got done but I wasn’t pleased at the end of my day--and I was too tired to eat (that's tired!).

What I learned: Have a plan (you remember my Today List?)—modify, if necessary—let go of disappointments—put the unfinished things on the next day’s List. And don't forget to rest. Might not work for everyone, but it did for me.

My life is as full as I want—I have freedom to say no, thanks if I don’t want to do something—and I have time to explore new ideas and adventures. I take naps when I need to and rest every afternoon. 

The best thing of all—I can go on learning: how to manage my days, how to make the best of this time in my life (which is quite different from other eras), how to enjoy what I do, how to keep growing.

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Thanks, Liz Flaherty, for stirring up memories. Life changers can work for good, if we let them.



Thursday, February 11, 2016

HOUSES – Part II

In the first 10 years of my life, I lived in five “houses.” [Details in Thursday’s Child post, February 3.] I use quotation marks around the word houses because one of them wasn’t a house as we usually define it.

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After school was over the year I was in fifth grade, my stepsister went back to California to live with her mother.


The rest of us—my mother, stepfather, and me—packed up and moved to southern Missouri, where we lived on a red-clay hilly farm eleven miles from the Arkansas border. The landscape was lovely, though unsuited for farming as we knew it in Illinois, and our location in the foothills of the Ozarks meant we had hills and hollers, winding roads, and a small mountain (remember, I’m still about 10 years old then) behind our house, just across a creek.

We also had a variety of poisonous snakes: rattlers, water moccasins, and copperheads. I had two experiences with snakes. Once a humongous snake slithered through the yard and went right under our house. (Adult knowledge says it was a harmless black snake, but I was still 10 years old.) I had nightmares for weeks, waiting for that big old snake to come up through the floor into the house. (It didn’t.) Another time, I was sent to the hen house to gather eggs. As I went out the door, Mom reminded me, “Look before you put your hand into the nest, there might be a snake there.” That time I almost didn’t look first, and snatched my hand back just in time to avoid an unfortunate meeting with a you-know-what. I dropped the egg bucket and fled screaming to the house.

I attended another one-room school, eight grades, maybe sixteen students. Being from the north, my accent was “funny” to the other kids. But I had books to read, and a library in a nearby town, only four or five mile as the crow flew, but by road. . . .



After southern Missouri, we moved to Wichita, Kansas—and that was much less stressful. (No snakes.) Even though Wichita was the largest city I’d ever lived in—300,000 in the early 1950s—I knew about streets, traffic lights, and noise. I walked to school, sometimes with my neighbor across the street, sometimes alone. We lived in half of the downstairs of a two-story house—two apartments on the ground floor, sleeping rooms on the second floor, and the landlord’s apartment in the basement. About all I remember of that year is that I liked seventh grade—different rooms and teachers for every subject; I learned to love art—made a marionette for the show we put on and was chosen to be the voice of Beauty in “Beauty and the Beast.”

The only downside of that year in Wichita came in the spring when my mother got sick. She felt bad enough to go to a doctor, unusual in our family. Only later did I learn that her health was part of the reason we left Wichita and moved back east, nearer home.

The next year, our little family split up. For eighth grade, I lived with my dad and stepmother in Charleston. Mom and my stepfather moved to St. Louis where they got jobs in a factory.

Eighth grade was rather fun. I was once again in my hometown, and I recognized kids I’d known in third and fourth grades at Lincoln School. We lived in one of many small ranch-style houses my dad built in Charleston, and I rode a bike all over the south side of town near the college. Dad bought a television set that first summer, and I got my first taste of game shows and soap operas. They were all right, but my real love was listening to Cubs games on the radio.

Then school was out, my mom and stepfather returned to Illinois, and I went to live with them in a small town called Lerna, population about 300, located several miles southwest of Charleston. As soon as school began in the fall, I met a girl a year ahead of me; we rode the school bus together to Charleston High School, and became great friends. I often spent time at her house, partly because she was one of five kids, the only girl, and was needed to help her mom with cooking, laundry, ironing, and cleaning. The other part of spending time with her was so I could experience what it was like to live in a big family, have older brothers who teased, and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. Her house was old and run-down, but I don’t recall ever thinking that was a bad thing. Just different.

Our two-story house was the former Methodist parsonage which we lived in rent-free in exchange for janitorial duties at the church next door. For the first time I had an upstairs bedroom from which I could look out over the little town and make up stories about the people who lived there.

We lived there all my freshman year in high school and part of my sophomore year, until Mom was diagnosed with cancer and had to have major surgery. In the mid-‘50s, hospital stays could be quite long. She was in Decatur a few weeks, then transferred to Charleston Hospital. By the time she returned to Charleston in October, I was told her illness was fatal and she wouldn’t live very much longer. She died the end of April 1956.

During Mom’s hospitalization and after her death, I lived with my dad and stepmother in various houses. Dad would buy an old house for us to live in, build another next door, move into the new one, tear down the old one. Repeat. I don’t know how many times we went through that cycle, build—sell—build another.

Our last abode was a big trailer, or mobile home, perched on a narrow lot above a deep ravine at the edge of town. I didn’t sleep much while we lived there. Central Illinois is in the heart of Tornado Alley—high winds from the west made the mobile home rock. I became a worrier par excellence during those two years “on the edge.”

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Houses—of whatever type—have always meant a lot to me. I’ve lived in so many that I no longer have an image of the ideal home. But in my heart, I recognize that any house can be a home if the people there love each other, or have love to share. I now live alone, without a dog to talk to (though I often talk to myself, another story there), but I’m not lonely. The love that sustained me through the years of living in many houses is still with me.

Today I celebrate the love that keeps a house from being merely a place to go to when it’s time to eat or sleep. May you have that kind of love in your life.



Ozark Foothills Landscape

Thursday, February 4, 2016

HOUSES – Part I

     You have many houses,
       One for every season . . . .

Judy Collins published and sang that song in 1975. She might have been writing it for me.

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My first house was the one in which I was born. My father built it—dug the basement, laid the cement-block foundation, then built a garage that he and my mother lived in it while he completed the rest of the house. When it was finished, they moved in and I joined them.

I recall living in that house—fragments of memory: eating my mother’s potato soup at a small counter built into a recess between kitchen and living room; playing records on the phonograph by myself (I was about three years old then); and my strongest memory, shaking my crib because that other baby was in it (my cousin Mike, who had come to visit with his mom, Aunt Virginia, and who had needed a nap; he was younger than I was, but by gum, he was in my bed).

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Next came a rental house on Third Street in Charleston, two doors down from Uncle Tom and Aunt Flossie. That’s the first place I recall getting into trouble—a group of neighborhood kids was fooling around, finding minnows (this is hard to believe, even now) in the flooded street, and deciding to roast them on a fire. I ran back to the house, hollering that I’d bring the matches—only to meet my mother, stern of face, who said, virtually, “You’ll do no such thing.”

A great memory from that time, though, is going to see Aunt Flossie. She always had jelly beans. I loved jelly beans! And almost better—certainly right up there in my estimation—she sewed! On a sewing machine! I could sit for hours watching her stitch two pieces of fabric together. Sometimes she gave me little pieces that were left over. That’s what I call ecstasy!

But our tenure in that house was short-lived. My dad was building a new type of house, a flat-top—four-square, one story, with a flat roof. Quite modern for 1946. The basement was a walk-out type, also new at the time; I recall playing there—the smooth concrete floor made a wonderful skating rink.

While living in that house, I first went to school—Clearspring School, one room, one teacher, eight grades. Reading, writing, arithmetic, social studies (with the big kids), recess, treasure hunts, Christmas play (I was one of Santa’s helpers—my first stage appearance), end-of-school picnic and school trip to the movies. I think we saw Gone with the Wind, but that’s such a long film that it might have been something else. Memory doesn't always latch onto some details.

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At that point in my life, many things changed. My parents divorced, and I lived with my mother. We left the flat-top house and moved into Charleston, where I’d been born, to live in a converted gas station. Piecing things together in later years, I decided the living quarters went with my mom’s waitressing job at the truck stop next door.

I attended town school, grades 3 and 4; learned to write stories, sing two-part harmony, play with other kids (I was never good at games, not did I ever succeed very much at social interaction), and continued to entertain myself with books (libraries are wonderful treasure troves, in case I’ve not mentioned it recently).

Another life change: My mother remarried. We moved to a town several miles west of Charleston to live for a few weeks with my new step-grandmother, then settled into a rental house just a block away. The town was larger, and a little frightening. City buses became part of the scene. Downtown was a long ways off (to my 10-year-old eyes).

And another unforeseen thing happened—my step-sister Janet came to live with us for the school year. She was three years older, in eighth grade. I was thrilled to have my very own sister! It was for me a storybook come true—I irritated her, she had little time for me because she wanted to be with her older friends. But we shared a room with long windows and high ceilings, and slept in two white-painted wood-framed beds. I couldn't have written a better story.

In that house I had scarlet fever and measles—not at the same time, thank heaven—and learned from my adult cousin Eula how to draw women’s hats. While I recuperated from all my illnesses, I drew hats galore, and then branched out into copying cartoon figures from my comic books. Actually did a pretty good job with Donald Duck and his cronies.

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Those were my first five “houses”—in my first 10 years. Not quite one for every season, but definitely one for each new season of my life.

After my step-sister left to return to her mother, our lives changed again and we left Illinois to live in other states in the Midwest. More seasons of life unfolded.