Category Archives: Family

Friendly Visitation

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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!

 

 

 

Late!

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I’m up early today, trying to make up for all I didn’t do yesterday.

I don’t set the alarm clock on Sunday morning. I don’t have to be at work until 10:30; sunshine streaming in and the dogs needing out always assure that I’ll be up in time, no matter how late I was up the night before. Not yesterday.

Yesterday morning, the dogs had each made a trip outside before 6AM. I had taken the opportunity – while I was up – to empty my bladder and get a drink of water. The windows were open to a cool breeze; gentle rain was coming down. I was cozy and warm under a heavy comforter, with Rosa Parks curled up at my feet, Darla snoring from her bed close by. A cloudy sky blocked the morning sun. There was nothing to drive me from my bed. I thought of waking up, then let myself drift back into sleep…until I finally reached out to turn the clock around, to get an idea of the time.

TEN O’CLOCK!!!

I jumped out of bed. First, to the kitchen, to start the coffee brewing. To the bathroom next, where I ran the sink full of hot water for the sponge bath that would have to replace the shower I had planned. Having gone to bed with damp hair the night before, my hair was sticking up in a dozen directions. I wet it down and dried it into what could only be described as “better than before.” I washed, dressed, and brushed my teeth.

I filled two tiny dishes with soft food for the dogs. By that time they had roused themselves, too, and were not-too-enthusiastically considering another trip outside in the rain. “You’ll be fine,” I told them, “stay inside.” I filled my thermos and poured a cup of coffee. As I put down the dogs dishes, I reminded them that this was a short day, and told them to take care of things. Purse, thermos and coffee cup in hand, I was out the door.

Seven and a half miles is the distance to town. When I was considering this property, my Dad said, “That’s an awful long way from town, Cindy.” At that time, I was living outside of North Branch, driving ten miles to bring my daughters to ballet lessons, fifteen to visit my parents, and more than twenty for my classes in Flint, Michigan. Seven miles seemed like nothing…until I moved here.

Gas prices are high. I consolidate trips. I almost never come home and then go back to town, no matter what exciting event is taking place. The roads are, for the most part, unpaved, narrow and curvy, often littered with fallen branches. One must always be on the lookout for wildlife: chipmunks, black squirrels, wild turkeys and white-tailed deer think nothing of crossing the road without warning. So I did think about Dad on Father’s Day, and his sage advice about the long distance from town, as I made my way to work.

It gave me some comfort to have that cup of coffee nearby, though it was much too bumpy a ride to try to get a sip. As I rounded the church hill, I was glad to see Mass was still in session, for the church-goers often make their way to the hardware store as soon as the service is over. I made it to work no more than three minutes late, with customers already waiting at the door. I mixed two cans of paint before I had my coffee, and the day continued busy.

By the time I got home, I was ready for a break. As it was too wet for gardening or yard work, I took the dogs for a short walk. We then convened on the sofa to watch a movie and nap. After that, a drive to Fox Lake and then down to the frog pond. A late dinner completed the day’s theme.

Yesterday, I was behind all day. Today, I’m getting an early start.

Only Tuesday

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Mary has suspended the memoir-writing workshop that I was devoting my Tuesday writing to, in order to finish another book. So, I’m going to give it up for a while, too. It’s spring, after all; there is much to do.

The other night, while in the middle of a telephone conversation, I happened to notice a rhododendron – under the big maple tree – had burst into bloom. I grabbed my camera and ran outside. From the house, the flowers looked watermelon red. On camera, they are a milder color. Still, it was worth the trip.

This time of year, when mosquitoes are in a biting frenzy, “no-see-ums” and other biting gnats and flies abound, and a tick has been known to find its way from tall grass to tender skin, a trip outside has to be “worth it.” I make my way from home to car and back again without a pause. If I plan to stay longer in the out-of-doors, I prepare for it.

First a good spray around my ankles of tick repellent. Then an all-over spray of a good, Deet-based insect repellent. I spritz my hands, next, with a milder, oily concoction, and rub it onto my face, around my ears, and into my scalp. If it’s a very bad day for bugs, I may add a head net.

The price of gas here on Beaver Island causes me to make every trip to town really “count,” with visits to post office, bank and grocery store combined. Likewise, the amount of preparation to spend time in the yard causes me to do everything possible to make it worthwhile. Are there clothes to be hung on the line? That should be first, before I get my hands in the dirt. Are my tools all ready? And where – once again – is the tape measure? There must be gas for the lawn mower, in case I tire of gardening. A walk or a trip to Fox Lake with the dogs can be wedged in somewhere, too.

Once I’m inside, showered and changed, trips outside are rare. It has to be for something really special. A few days ago, I decided – after dark – that I was in the mood for a rhubarb crisp. Nothing else would satisfy. I had all the ingredients on hand…except for the rhubarb, which was growing in the back yard, just behind my garden spot.

I was clean, and in my pajamas. I didn’t want to cover myself again in insect-repelling chemicals. I just made a run for it. My big dog, Darla, came along for the adventure. We blasted across the yard to the rhubarb patch, my arms flailing to shoo the bugs away. “Run! Run! Run! Run,” I called out in time to my footfalls. No time to waste! I twisted off a couple dozen stalks of the pink and green fruit, and beat a path right back to the house.

I cut off the big leafy tops and the tough bases. I chopped the rest, and put it in the colander for a good rinse. I combined flour, brown sugar, oatmeal and butter into a nice crumble. I put half of it in the pan, sprinkled it with cinnamon, and spread the rhubarb over it. I covered it with the rest of the crumble. Another dusting of cinnamon, a few dots of butter and one tablespoon of water sprinkled over the top, and it was ready for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

I served it, when it was done, the way I used to give it to my daughters for breakfast: piping hot, in a bowl, with milk. It was a perfect spring supper! Just like the rhododendron photo, it was worth the trip!

 

 

 

A Day Turns Around

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I won’t go into the many and varied elements that contributed to the end result, but I was bone-tired, grouchy, and on the verge of tears by the time I got home last evening.

I have been determinedly forcing myself, no matter how tired from my day at work, to get in an hour or two of garden work every day, digging, weeding and planting, before I come inside. Even with that, my progress is slow, and the summer will quickly be upon us. There are days when I’m stymied by rain. There is no time to waste!

Last evening, I let the garden go. I quickly unloaded the groceries from car to house. I refrigerated what needed it, and put my precious pint of special ice cream in the freezer. I loaded the dogs in the car, rolled down the windows, and headed for Fox Lake. There, a couple geese with a half-dozen goslings swam leisurely just off-shore. The dogs wandered, and waded, and played. I updated my planner, took a few photographs, and relaxed. A walk through the woods along the shoreline completed our excursion, and we headed for home.

It had started sprinkling by the time we got there. Inside, then! While feeding the dogs and putting my own dinner together, I called my sister Brenda. There was a bonus: my sister Robin was there, too! I spoke to both of them, told them about all the worries and conflict playing around in my head, listened to good advice and welcome empathy, heard about their day, and even found plenty to laugh about. It was a long, good conversation that ended with “I love you”s all around, and improved my mood tremendously.

Off the phone, I sat down to a dinner that included potato salad made to my Mom’s recipe and standards. I mixed it up and served it from the sunshine yellow ceramic bowl Aunt Katie gave me. For dessert, a wedge of rhubarb crisp, from the first rhubarb picking of the year. Again, Mom’s recipe. Later, one small waffle cone filled with raspberry-cheesecake gelato. None of these foods are good for my diet. All were worth it for the good they did for my state of mind!

Finally, I eschewed “cleaning time” and laundry waiting to be moved along in the never-ending cycle. I poured a glass of wine. I used a special hand blown wineglass in swirling blaze colors that was a gift from my daughter Kate. I ran a hot bath, and added scented oil that I’d purchased on a trip with my sisters. I lit a candle. I gathered up a fluffy towel, my good book, and the wineglass. A long soak in the tub, then early to bed.

Not every bad day can be turned around; yesterday, I managed it.

 

 

 

Present, This Day

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Here it is, Sunday morning, and here I am, present for it.

So far, it’s not looking like the best of days.

The weather is cold, and damp, and drizzly. Yesterday, it rained. That means the grass is too wet to mow, and the garden is too soft to work in. If I bundle up, I could do some outdoor clean up. There are a dozen dog toys to be gathered up before I can cut the grass, abandoned when some other activity caught the big dog’s attention. There are two sturdy, lidded trash cans and a few other items that sit along what used to be the fence line. Now that the fence is down, they just look out of place. There’s still a mound of the vinyl deer fence in the back yard. It needs to be rolled or folded up for storage. So far, I’m not enthusiastic about any of it.

I have plenty to do in the house. I left dishes to drain-dry in the kitchen; there are clothes folded and stacked on the washing machine that need to be put away. There is a load of towels that need to be transferred to the dryer, since it’s not a good day for hanging them on the clothesline. I should wash the rugs…but I think I’ll wait for a better day.

I have several letters to write. This job has been hanging over my head for weeks, now, and I can’t seem to work up a plan or any determination. The letters are to accompany second – or sometimes third – bills to advertisers in my news magazine. The agreed upon service has been delivered: I have included the ads, paid for the printing and the cost of mailing; the burden should be on them to cancel the ad if they don’t want it. I am justified in asking for the payment, as agreed upon. Yet, I struggle.

I weave whiny, defensive, “why am I being taken advantage of this way” letters in my head. I approach it as “one business person to another.” I try out lengthy diatribes about why my bill-sending is so sporadic, taking the blame for their lack of payment. And then I do nothing. But they have probably just forgotten. And I need to collect. I have to just get it done.

I have on-going projects in the studio…several things I’m quite excited about, even. This could be a good day for making art. I could set that as my final goal, and hammer out a few necessary jobs before rewarding myself with time in the studio. It sounds good, but doesn’t stir me to get moving.

I have not yet been able to work up much excitement about any of it. I am not in a rush to move from this comfortable chair. I’m not driven to get out of pajamas, or to abandon my cozy bathrobe. There is still hot coffee in the pot; I could use another cup of it. So far, this Sunday morning, I am here, and that is all.

 

A Little Enthusiasm, Please

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I have a cold. Not one of those ordinary, bothersome colds that are annoying but manageable. No. This is a headache, earache, fever-inducing, mouth-breathing, sapped-of- all-energy, can’t-sleep-but-can’t-seem-to-wake-up-either ugly cold.

Right at the start of my “weekend.” Just when I have so much to do in every single direction.  On Mother’s Day, no less. [Here, with all the breath I can muster, I sigh a big self-pitying sigh.]

Some days, the good things in my life are right out front, easy to see and appreciate. Today, since it is Mother’s Day, I was planning to write an upbeat piece about motherhood and gratitude, and all of the good things going on here in my world. I’ve been sitting here for an hour, trying to drum up a little enthusiasm. I just can’t do it.

I think I’m going to go back to bed.

Artifacts to Memories: Things I Can’t Let Go

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There is a lot of stuff in my life. I was hoping for a more delicate term, but “stuff” seems apt. Gifts, purchases, hand-me-downs and inheritances. Sixty-four years worth of accumulated belongings. Enough to divide into several categories.

There are the things I hold on to for their sentimental value. Ranging from drawings and cards that my young daughters made more than thirty years ago, to photographs, to little gifts from friends and family, to my very first hard-cover chapter book, to my dining room table. The table was a junk store find that my Dad brought home, that was used as our clothes-folding table and extra-seating-at-holiday-time table for most of my life. Then, moved out to the garage, it was my brother David’s work and party table (the surface gained a few cigarette burns and saw marks from that phase), my sister Sheila’s table to relax with a book and a beverage…and finally my dining room table.

There are things I keep because they are necessary, or because they seem necessary to me. Most of my clothing fits this category…but so do many books, plants, baskets, candles, art supplies, art work, and a large collection of flat, round stones. I know there is too much. I go through periods of purging and paring down. These “necessities” are spared, because the thought of losing them gives me heart palpitations.

Then, there are the items I hold on to, because of an – often unrealistic – idea of the person I would like to be. A collection of beautiful yarn waits, in a basket with crochet hooks and scissors, for the day when I am transformed back into the woman I used to be: a young mother, making gifts and treasures from bits of yarn. Other baskets, boxes and suitcases hold fabrics, embroidery floss, needlepoint canvas, rug-making tools and accessories, and quilt squares. My life doesn’t have room for the activities associated with all of this “stuff,” but I can’t give up on the idea that it will.

That young woman that I was, along with a Katherine Hepburn/Jo March/Martha Stewart-esque vision of a person I would like to be are evident in excesses throughout my house, from bookshelves to closets to kitchen cupboards. I would like to be someone who drinks tea, does yoga, listens to cool jazz, wears hats, raises chickens, grows all of her own food, reads the classics, and hosts lovely dinner parties…including trifle for dessert. I am not, but many of my belonging would lead one to think so.

That is the crux of the problem, when faced with getting rid of things I don’t use. I love that young woman that I used to be, with a dozen projects going and a whole lifetime ahead to finish them. I can’t seem to let go of her, yet. I still picture myself with chickens and a big garden, doing yoga, jazz music coming from the stereo, James Joyce on my nightstand. Until I give up on the person I was, and the person I want to be, I can hardly give up her accessories!