Category Archives: Life

Aunt Katie’s Eulogy

Standard

IMG_1142

Since my Aunt Katie died a week ago, I’ve had many people come to me to offer their sympathy, and to tell me a memory or an impression she left. There was the baseball cap she often wore, or the big truck she drove, or the dog that waited in the car while Aunt Katie attended mass. Always, though appreciative of the thought, I was left thinking, “There was so much more to her than that!” I was anxious for the chance to honor her for all that she meant to so many of us.

I thought I’d talk about Katherine’s life, and how she lived it: her work, the sports she loved, her garden…then Deacon Paul came to talk to me, to prepare for his homily…and I gave away all my best material. I was planning to interview all the cousins gathered here, to get specifics about how Aunt Katie influenced each of their lives…but there was a lot going on yesterday, and I didn’t get the chance. So, I’m speaking from my perspective alone in hopes that, by doing so, maybe others will identify with Katherine as I knew her.

My first memory of Aunt Katie goes back 60 years. I’m sure she was around before that, to hold me when I was a baby, and to try to hold me once I decided I was shy, and wouldn’t allow it. On this particular day, though, when she stopped in for a visit, my mother was giving baths and shampooing hair. The house was in an uproar. I was sitting naked in the middle of the living room, wailing. Aunt Katie swooped me up into her arms…and I let her. And I stopped crying. She did a little pointing to my dad, who was just as surprised as she was that I was allowing it. She said, “See, I’m not so bad…we could be friends…”

She was right. Aunt Katie was a consistent presence through my life. As a child, I looked forward to her Sunday visits for the cookies she often brought, and for the lively conversations that took place when she was around. As an adult, I appreciated my aunt as a mentor, a teacher, and a wonderful friend.

Aunt Katie was an example of a strong, independent working woman, when role-models like that were extremely scarce. She had a good job, and owned her own home. She always drove a nice car. She traveled around the state, and then around the country. When she came to Beaver Island on vacation, she almost always brought some of her nieces and nephews along with her. Once, stuck in traffic on the way back to Pontiac on a sweltering hot day, she said all four of the Evans boys had their long legs dangling out the windows!

Aunt Katie taught me how to get along with my Dad. “Don’t forget: I grew up with him, and three other stubborn brothers,” she told me. “It won’t do you any good to argue; you will never win. Instead, do this: drop your chin, bring your arms to your sides. Say ‘you are absolutely right.’ Don’t say ‘you could be right’ or ‘you might have a point’ because the argument will just continue on. Say ‘you are absolutely right.’ Then, just do what you want.”

I watched her put this into practice. My dad would rail on and on about the stupidity of the game of golf, and how foolish it was to go chasing a little ball across a field. Aunt Katie would nod, drop her chin, and say, “You’re absolutely right, Bob.” Then, next chance she got, she’d load up her clubs and go to the golf course. Dad would talk about how ridiculous it was to grow flowers. “If you can’t eat it, it’s just a waste of time,” he’d say. “You’re right,” she’d say…but she’d still run twine along the porch for her morning glories to climb.

Once, over dinner, Uncle Henry was talking about smoking, and what a nasty habit it was. “You’re absolutely right, Henry,” Aunt Katie said. Still, when she got up from the table, she closed herself in the bathroom and lit up.”She thinks I don’t know what she’s doing in there,” he said…as if she weren’t less than ten feet away. “It’s none of Henry’s business,” Aunt Katie spoke to herself…as if the walls weren’t paper thin. When she came out of the bathroom, in a cloud of smoke, neither one of them said a word about it.

And when my dad was on his deathbed, and he bellowed and sent us all, crying, from the room, Aunt Katie quietly kept her seat. No matter what he wanted, or thought he wanted, she wasn’t going to let him die alone.

Aunt Katie didn’t always shy away from an argument, though. There are a couple of people that she seemed to truly enjoy sparring with. There were others that she’d talk history with, or finance, politics, the stock market, gardening, dogs, or baseball. Katherine was an intelligent woman who could speak with great knowledge on any number of subjects. She wouldn’t waste her time, though, if she didn’t think you were interested.

She was always tuned in to what others cared about. She kept that in mind, too, when she asked for assistance. One niece helped with her taxes, because that was her strong suit. A couple nephews helped with remodeling projects. Aunt Katie called me if she needed something from the store; she called Bob for help with dinner. When Deacon Paul asked if I took care of Aunt Katie, I was stunned. “She took care of herself,” I told him. She was careful to spread out the help she needed, so that it seemed like she was asking nothing at all. Truly, in comparison to all that she gave, it was absolutely nothing.

With that being said, I do want to thank the many people that helped Katherine as her health failed, to make it possible for her to live a good life, in her own home. Thank you to the priests that have stopped to visit, to Deacon Jim, and the ladies that brought Communion. Thanks to Bob Evans, who was always there for Aunt Katie, whether it was doctor visits, meals, or just good companionship. Thanks to Eileen, who was Katherine’s helper and, most importantly, her friend. Thanks to Greg, who was always close by, and checked in regularly. Thanks to Keith, who brightened Aunt Katie’s hospital stay with regular visits…and to all the others that came, called, or sent cards. And many thanks to the hospice nurses, Sue Solle and Donna Kubik, for all their help and encouragement in Katherine’s last days.

My Aunt Katie lived a good life; my life has been better for having her in it.

 

 

 

Today

Standard

IMG_1100

When I’m struggling for what to do, how to behave, what to say…I find a quote – or it finds me – and the message speaks right to me, and gives me direction to go forward. This one is a gift from my friend, Lisa, who writes from rural Ecuador:

“Today: Soak in what’s real and what’s real is unhurried. The ground. The air. The exhale. The planted seed. The shift. The season.” – Victoria Erickson

And there it is, just what I need to find my footing.

Saturday, my Aunt Katie came home from the hospital, weak as a kitten, and resigned to the fact that there was nothing more that could be done to improve her situation. My cousin Bob brought her back to Beaver Island, where she was born and raised, and where she has lived since her retirement, more than thirty years ago. We helped to get her settled in her own house, where her biggest wish was to watch the Detroit Tigers baseball game.

I moved in to her house, too, to be there, and help however I could. Though Aunt Katie was, at times, frustrated by pain, weakness or the inability to perform a task(“This hand just doesn’t work right anymore!”), she was always brave, rational and composed. “That’s the way it should be,” she said, speaking of the fact that she would die before her sister, Margaret, “I’m the oldest, after all.” When I showed concern over her discomfort, she told me calmly, “That’s just part of the process, Cindy.”

Though we both recognized that these were serious and important times, we stayed true to our own natures. I still managed to get on Aunt Katie’s nerves with my inability to find whatever she sent me after (her little pills, the breathing machine, oatmeal) though her directions couldn’t possibly have been more precise. Any show of sadness or sentimentality was met with a sharp rebuke. Once, when my hand rested on her shoulder a bit too long, she gathered enough voice to say, “Cindy! Cut it out!” She still managed, now and then, to hurt my feelings and aggravate. We were both able, though, to let little grievances go, and focus on the big picture.

I was rarely alone with Aunt Katie. Her niece, Shirley, grand-niece, Paula, and Paula’s husband, Tom, flew over for a day. They brightened Aunt Katie’s spirits, and left behind enough soup to feed an army! Her nephews Bob, Greg and Keith were present and attentive. Phone calls were frequent and welcome. I’d help Aunt Katie hold the phone to her ear as she listened and responded.

Friends stopped in with gifts of food, well-wishes and encouragement. Aunt Katie smiled and nodded appreciation as I named her guests. Bob’s fiancee, Joann, spent one long night in the chair at her bedside, murmuring love and comfort. Donna and Sue, the hospice nurses, were frequent guests, always kind, helpful and full of good advice. The deacon came, to offer communion and other sacraments. Aunt Katie’s friend and helper, Eileen, stopped in for a long visit, and she and my aunt had a beer together. When I came into the room, Aunt Katie was smacking her lips and, with a little grin, said, “That tastes good!”

My aunt died Monday evening, with family and friends around her. She was eighty-eight years old.

My sister Cheryl, and her son, Bob, arrived the next day. Together with those of us already here, plans and arrangements are moving along. Photos are being gathered; memories are shared. Last night four of us ordered Aunt Katie’s beer choice before dinner, and toasted her as we clinked our bottles of MillerLite together. We’ll have a steady stream of family arriving over the next several days.

This morning, I picked my dogs up from the kennel. I stayed home from work. I have not yet contacted the family to see what I should do next. Today, I’m taking time to let it all soak in. One step at a time.

What I Remember

Standard

IMG_0986

On my mother’s birthday, my thoughts go to memories of her. Mom would have turned eight-five years old today. If we were still blessed with her presence, I can imagine a lively, strong woman with a twinkle in her eye, who would probably still enjoy going out for a nice dinner. Maybe followed by a night of “Bingo.” Finished off with a cup of tea and a good book. Unfortunately, she died nearly six years ago.

Mom’s seventy-ninth birthday was the last one she celebrated. Though she was gravely ill, she did celebrate. Many of her children and grandchildren were with her; her walker was decorated with balloons, tied on with curling ribbon. Photos show her smiling as she opened presents and marveled over each one.

She was my own very special mother, and it’s nearly impossible to separate that from everything else I know about her. With her own large brood, and many other children welcome to participate in our crazy family activities, with grandchildren adding to the flock, motherhood and nurturing was a big part of Mom’s identity. Not all, though. She had an eventful and challenging life before she had children, and plenty of exciting adventures after we were grown. Today I am remembering the things that made her the unique and wonderful person that she was.

Red was her favorite color. With her dark hair and fair skin, she could wear it well, too. As a young woman, bright red lipstick accented her perfect smile. That, and a touch of rouge on her cheeks was all the adornment she needed. Her strong brows and long, dark eyelashes stood on their own. As her hair changed to salt and pepper and finally silver, the reds in her wardrobe gave way to softer tones of rose and pink.

Mom loved to read, and she raised a family of readers. As a child, she read adventure stories about animals: Black Beauty, White Fang, Lassie Come Home, My Friend, Flicka. Later, she favored good mysteries. After working her way through all the works of Agatha Christie, she found others she liked. Mom favored gritty, tough-guy, detectives with a soft heart.

Shopping was one of mom’s passions. Weekly trips to the grocery store were prepared for with lists, clipped coupons and meal plans, and anticipated with pleasure. Outings with girlfriends to visit the shopping malls in Flint, or to wander through the shops downtown were highlights for Mom.

She’d come home with bags and packages to be hidden away for Christmas, or revealed to us children as new school clothes or the fabric for sewing them. She’d draw us in to her thought processes and her excitement:

“When I saw this color, I just knew I had to get it…imagine how pretty this will look on Cheryl!”

“Cindy, this is almost just exactly like the dress you picked out from the J.C.Penney catalog…and look at this price!”

“I loved this flannel as soon as I saw it. I bought enough to make nightgowns for all the little girls.”

Mom and Dad shared a love of dogs. They would tolerate cats, but dogs were a beloved part of the family. Mom could name her childhood pets, and every dog we’d had growing up, where we got them, and how they died. Her last dog was terribly spoiled with bits of cheese and meat chunks for treats.

Mom liked games and puzzles, and taught us all to like them, too. After we grew up, she often bowed out of participating, though. I think it wasn’t the games, but her raucous family that deterred her. She still enjoyed putting together a jig-saw puzzle, and often had one going on a card table on the porch. When I was young, Mom and Dad occasionally had friends over to play Pinochle or Michigan Rummy. Later, Mom took to the Bingo halls, and even went to the casino once or twice each year.

My mother liked the World War II era movie stars; Judy Garland was one of her favorites. Katherine Hepburn, too. She was crazy about Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and Paul Anka. One of her favorite songs was “Red Roses for a Blue Lady.” Mom and I shared a love of Danny Kaye. Johnny Cash, Roger Miller and Kenny Rogers all gained Mom’s approval, too.

Mom loved roses. She would usually receive a bouquet or two for birthdays and other special occasions. As children, we’d call Perkin’s Flower Shop to order them, and have them billed to the family account. Seems that bill never came due, as Mom quietly paid it when it came in the mail. That never dulled her enthusiasm over the next bouquet to arrive that way!

This is just a small sample of the many characteristics that made Mom special. If she were here today, I’d deliver flowers. Since she’s not, I’m letting memories of her enrich my day.

Off-Track

Standard

IMG_0939

Clearly, my writing practice has gotten off track. Sometimes that happens when I’m focused on getting other areas of my life in order. Sometimes it’s just one more thing in my life that has fallen into disarray. That’s how it is right now. Chaos.

Summer is a busy time here on Beaver Island. Things are going on all the time. It starts with Memorial Day, and special events for the Beaver Island Birding Trail. There’s a Bike Festival. When we get through the Fourth of July parade and festivities, we are faced with, in quick succession and sometimes simultaneously, Baroque on Beaver, Museum Week, the Beaver Island Music Festival, the Beaver Island Jazz Festival, several art events, Home-Coming, and the August Dinner. There are art classes, movies, yoga classes, and special events at the library.

Work is exhausting, with longer days filled with heightened business. “How is business,” people often ask. “Really busy!” is my reply. Invariably, the response to that is something like, “Well, that’s good!” Yes. It is good. We need the busy summers to sustain us through the slower seasons. Still, I bite my tongue to prevent saying how tired I am, and how much my feet hurt. “Good, my ass,” I think to myself.

Yesterday, I painted and framed, preparing work for the Museum Week Art Show. I worked several hours on the next issue of the Beacon. I pulled some weeds from the flower beds. I did some very necessary cleaning. I spent, I admit, at least a couple hours in lazy self-indulgent relaxation, recuperating from the past week.

Today, I made two trips to town to deliver nine pieces to the Gregg Fellowship Hall for inclusion in the art show. I stopped at the marina to make the final payment on my car repair. Post Office, gas station and grocery store completed my list of errands. I stopped at Aunt Katie’s to tidy up. She is still convalescing on the mainland, but I like to keep an eye on things.

My cousin, who was cutting and bailing hay across the road from Aunt Katie’s, told me there was a broken bail I could have, if I’d get it out of his way. So, I drove onto the field and, armful-by-armful, loaded the bail of hay into the back seat and onto the front passenger seat of my car.

Home, I unloaded the hay onto the pallet near the garden shed, on top of the few remaining bails of straw. Unloaded the twenty-pound bag of dog food. Went back for the toothpaste, bottle of wine and “Iron Out” rust remover, and the stack of papers that came in the mail.  Laundry next. I put in a load of towels with the rust remover, then gave the toilet, tub and sink a shot of it, too. I tossed all of the rugs outside for shaking, and swept through the whole house. Shook the rugs and brought them back in. When the washer was done, I put the wet things in the laundry basket, and started a load of dark clothes. I took the towels out to the clothesline. I fed the dogs.

Finally, I sit down to write. It is after eight o’clock in the evening. It has just started to rain (of course…with laundry on the line!). I haven’t started dinner yet. Tomorrow, it’s back to work. I think it’s time to open that bottle of wine.

 

 

Friendly Visitation

Standard

IMG_0898

Last night, my father visited. He’s been gone from this world for almost twenty years. He lives happily, though, in my thoughts and memories, and those of others who knew him well.

Dad’s work ethic is a constant influence in my life. I’ve told these stories before. No one could keep up. Beyond the long hours at General Motors where he worked as an electrician, Dad always had a dozen projects going. He was filling in the swampy areas, in the empty lot next door, to help to keep the mosquitoes down. He was adding a shoulder to the narrow paved road we lived on, so that the children that lived down the road would have an easier time walking to the bus stop.  He was raising pigs… chickens….an ever expanding garden…and – at any given time – keeping his own and a dozen or more other children busy and entertained.

I have joked that Dad often treated us like his own crew of migrant workers. Up in the morning early to pull weeds in the garden, at dusk we’d haul hoses and buckets to water the plants. In between there was plenty more to fill the time from helping with housework, taking care of little brothers and sisters, meal preparation, harvesting and canning, feeding the animals…and on and on. Mom was involved in all of this, too, as well as being the one to defend us, or answer to Dad if our work wasn’t done to his expectations.

His stubborn cantankerousness was legend, too. There was a particular way to make a bed, or wipe a table, or weed a row of beans. Dad didn’t just want us busy, he wanted things done right. Arguing in defense of cut corners was futile. He was rock solid in his opinions, and would hold his ground, picking up anger and momentum as the discussion continued. His sharp temper affects the way I deal with conflict, still. No matter how sure I am of my position, a contrary opinion spoken in a sharp tone will bring tears to my eyes and silence me every time. It’s humiliating, but I am unable to react in any way but the way I reacted as a child, to that tone of voice.

Listen to my ramblings for long, and one could be led to a particular image of my Dad. It would likely be inaccurate, because I’ve neglected the very best aspects of him. Beyond the firm belief in hard work and a job done correctly, and a stubborn insistence on his infinite rightness, my Dad had the heart of a young boy.

Dad was a tease. He had a twinkle in his eye and a little mischievous sideways grin that gave away his pleasure in the moment. Dad loved projects and adventures. He could turn work into play, or – when that was impossible – make the reward worth the effort. A  coca cola and a dime for the jukebox while Dad shot the breeze with the bartender was a fitting ending to a day spent in hard work. There were harvesting parties, corn-gathering parties and butchering parties, but also sledding parties – often involving the biggest hills, or specially-designed icy ramps. On Beaver Island, there were long days spent on the beach, and evenings of long drives filled with stories.

That was the person that visited last night. Driving home from a friend’s house after dinner and a movie, my Dad was suddenly with me. It wasn’t a ghost-like visitation; there was nothing mystic about it. It was only the definite feeling of Dad’s presence as I winded down the narrow roads toward home. I could picture him clearly: one hand casually slung over the bottom of the steering wheel, the other cradling a can of beer. I could imagine his voice as places led to stories, and hear his laugh as we rolled downhill toward Barney’s Lake.

The movie I’d watched was about an old man whose curmudgeon-like ways belied his big heart. The dinner was picnic fare, cooked over charcoal. I’d had two glasses of wine. The drive home, after dark and guided by the light from the head lamps, was alone a rarity for me. The route along Barney’s Lake was one of Dad’s favorite drives. I’m sure all of these things contributed to his presence last evening. Whatever the cause, it was a welcome visit!

 

 

 

A Morning of No Enthusiasm

Standard

 

IMG_0644

Sometimes, I wake up early and can’t fall back asleep with rampaging thoughts of all I need or want to do. Not today. I lay abed long after I woke up, trying to drum up a little incentive to get up.

There was a cool breeze coming in through the open window; I was cozy under the soft comforter. Darla, from her spot beside the bed, had rested her big head on my chest, to accept all the attention I could give her. She rewarded me for the petting with an occasional big lap of her tongue on my face. Rosa Parks, not to be left out, had nestled in to the space under my other shoulder, so that my second hand could scratch behind her ears. Her throaty murmurs – the closest thing to a purr I’ve ever heard coming from a dog – let me know she was enjoying the interlude, too.

Finally, I got up and made coffee. Last night before I went to sleep, I’d jotted some notes in my journal as reminders of what I wanted to accomplish today. There it was, if I needed a refresher. There is house work, yard work and garden work. There are bills to pay and bookkeeping to be done. I have a list of stories and articles to prepare for the next issue of the Beacon.

There is a long list for the studio, including cleaning and clearing space, preparing work for the Museum Week Art Show, and packaging a collagraph to be mailed out. There is old work to finish and plans for new work waiting. As I am wise to my wily ways of avoidance, procrastination and trade-offs, I rarely allow myself to go to the studio first. It is reward, for jobs well underway or tasks completed.

Sunday mornings used to be an exception to that rule. When I had television, my Sundays started in the studio, with the TV tuned to CBS Sunday Morning, coffee conveniently on the shelf beside me, and whatever I was currently involved in, on the drafting table in front of me. It was a lovely way to wake up, and made this day of the week stand out.

When television went digital, the only way to get a signal out here in the middle of Lake Michigan is to pay for satellite TV. I’ve never been much of a TV watcher. For the news, Jeopardy, and a handful of other programs, it hardly seemed worth the cost. I do miss that excuse to spend Sunday mornings in the studio, though!

Now, I get my news from the computer, where one link leads to another, and it’s easy to waste an entire morning following a single event. It’s also simple, from this spot at the desk, to click over to social media, to see what’s going on there, and comment on a status or two. Before I know it I’ve wasted half a day.

It’s afternoon, now, on this precious Sunday. It’s high time to get into gear, and find a little energy and enthusiasm for all the things that wait for me!

Nothing’s Lost In God’s Kingdom

Standard

IMG_6931

I have a co-worker who insists that, to find anything, one must state – out loud and with confidence – “There’s nothing lost in God’s kingdom.” I have to admit, it has proven to be a pretty reliable method when I can’t remember where I left my coffee cup or when one of us has misplaced the hand-held computer. It’s not working so well at my house.

Losing things is easy for me. I spend far too much time looking for stuff. To compensate, I try to have a place for everything, and stick to it. In an extra file drawer, there is a slot specifically for tape, another for tape measures, and a third for staples and staple guns. Pens and pencils always belong in a cup on the desk; the dogs leashes go in a basket by the back door; my purse always hangs on the back of my desk chair. Those designated spots have added hours to my life, that otherwise would be spent searching.

It’s a good system, but there are flaws. Sometimes, that’s because an item is unusual or new, and doesn’t have a designated place. Most often, it’s because I neglect to enforce my own rule about putting things where they belong…or, I get scatter-brained. Lately, I’ve been doing lots of talking out loud about nothing lost in God’s kingdom while tearing around looking whenever a new possibility crosses my mind…and – so far – to no avail.

First, I lost an envelope. A customer handed it to me while I was working at the hardware store. It was addressed to the Beaver Beacon, and I believe it held a check for three subscriptions. I didn’t open it, but folded it twice, and tucked it into the left front pocket of my blue jeans. Then, I continued my work day. When I got home, I worked out in the garden for a couple hours. Later, I showered, put on pajamas, and dropped my clothes into the laundry basket.

I woke up the next morning with a start, having remembered the envelope. It was not where I expected to find it, in the pocket of my jeans. Then the search began. Could it have fallen out in the garden? In the car on the way home? At work? Might I have shifted it to another pocket? In my jacket, maybe? Or tucked it into my purse? Could I have accidentally thrown it away, with stickers, tags and other detritus that I pick up at work and carefully only put in my right-hand pocket?

You can see where this is going. For three days now, I have been looking for the missing envelope. I have searched the house, yard, garden, car, and the hardware store. I have gone through all pockets and every trash receptacle. I have gone through every pile of papers, every nook and cranny. The envelope is lost.

Yesterday, in an amazingly productive day, I finished mulching the raspberries, put up tomato cages, fenced in the garden, and finally completed the mowing of the back yard. At one point I brought the camera out, to document my progress.

I photographed the lawnmower, nearly invisible in the last patch of really tall grass. I took pictures of the garden, the flowers, and the finished lawn, complete with towels hanging on the clothesline in the background. I photographed one hundred feet of deer fence rolled out over the grass in my front yard while I trimmed twelve inches off, so that it would be the right height. I documented the tangled snarl of deer fence after it was dragged to the back, and as I fought to wrangle it around the posts that border the garden. I took one final picture of the fence, finally in place.

In between pictures, I was careful to put the camera on the potter’s wheel, along with other necessities I had brought outside. When I was done for the day, I gathered up scissors, pruning shears, staple gun, two boxes of staples, graph paper tablet, pencil, camera and coffee cup, and carried it all inside.

It was after my shower, while the dogs were having their dinner and mine was cooking, when I went to download the pictures from my camera. Where was the camera?  Scissors and pruning shears were in the basket by the back door; the tablet and pencil had been deposited on the dining room table; staples and staple gun were in their proper file; my coffee cup was in the sink. No camera!

I checked outside. I retraced my steps inside. Then I did it again…and again. I tried bribing the dogs, “Find the camera, and I’ll give you a treat!” I chanted “There is nothing lost in God’s kingdom” while continuing to search. Is it sitting in plain sight, and I’m just overlooking it?

Disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to post photos of my productive day, I decided, instead, to share photos of my “reward.” On the day that I got such a huge list of things accomplished, I was treating myself to a T-bone steak dinner with asparagus spears and sauteed mushrooms on the side. I’m not big on photographing food, but it would be compensation for not being able to show the other pictures. Then, it struck me. Without a camera, I can’t photograph my meal or anything else. The camera is lost!