Tag Archives: birthday

Not Quite

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This is the season, it seems, for qualifiers. My birthday is almost here; I am not quite sixty-five years old. Summer is nearly over; fall is coming soon. It’s that “in-between” stage that begs for evaluation and invites plans. That’s where I’m at right now.

Summer. It came in slowly, with cold, rainy days through most of June. Even when it warmed up, it seems the hot summer days were often balanced by chilly nights or cool, windy or rainy days. Mosquitoes were never unbearable. I almost always slept under a light comforter.

I spent the early part of the summer getting my back yard reconfigured and my garden planted. Though it was a lot of work, it has pretty much taken care of itself since then, and has been a source of satisfaction and fresh vegetables for weeks now.

Most of my flowers are finished blooming, though the ones that are still offering their bright faces are more appreciated than ever. The low hedge of  “Autumn Joy” Sedum is healthy and bright green. Before long, its flat flower heads will be glorious bronze tones.

Aunt Katie’s illness dominated the summer season. When she was home, the goal was to buoy her spirits; the wish was to see her improve. “How are you today?” I’d ask whenever I stopped. “Not good,” she’d answer, discouraged. “I wish I had a different answer,” she once said, vehemently.

I brought her a large potted tomato plant, to grow on her kitchen porch. My cousin Bob planted a tub of salad greens just outside the door. His sheep grazed just behind the farmhouse. She watched them from her kitchen stool as he did her breathing treatment.

Morning Glories came up from seeds dropped in other years. Aunt Katie was never well enough to put up the rows of string for the flowers to climb; I never thought to do it for her. Now, in August, the vigorous  vines have tumbled over and formed a thick mound, reminding me of my neglect.

When she was getting care on the mainland – between two hospitals and a rehabilitation facility – telephone calls became a focus. There were calls to Aunt Katie’s room and to her cell phone. There were calls to the keyboard and to the nurse’s station. Because she was often out of her room, away from her phone, or unable to talk because something else was going on, and because the nurse’s station was poorly staffed in the evenings when I was able to call, I was usually frustrated. When I was able to get updates, I called family members downstate to spread the word. My cousin Keith changed his route to be able to visit with Aunt Katie on the way to and from his cabin. His phone calls were highly anticipated and welcome for the good information on her spirits and her progress.

When Aunt Katie finally came home, she knew – as we did – that she was coming home to die. Friends started calling, and stopping by. Dishes of food were dropped off. Family members altered their summer plans to get to the island. Though she was clearly weak, struggling, and in decline, I thought she’d be with us for a while. I packed a week’s worth of clothes, to bring to her house, and anticipated being there a month or more. That was not the way it worked out.

On, then to the services to honor my aunt. Bringing together many of her nieces and nephews and their families, islanders who knew and respected her and the contributions she made in her long life, and friends who wept openly at the dear heart we had lost. It was exhausting…and wonderful…as many events like this are, but a fitting send-off to a wonderful woman who has been a big part of my life.

The funeral was a sad start to the planned, week-long vacation on Beaver Island for my sisters and their families. Still, good company, fine weather, and lots of little children helped to bring perspective and joy to a transitional time. For me, especially this year, their presence was a blessing.

Work was the second major focus of my summer. Extended hours at the hardware store made for long, busy days. In addition, there was writing, event-covering and business to be taken care of for the news-magazine. Getting artwork where it needed to be – and myself where I was supposed to be to promote it – was another pull in yet another direction.

Though my diet and exercise plan went out the window less than two months into the New Year, I have somehow managed to lose about eight pounds. Walks with the dogs went from daily – as promised – to a couple times a week, as time and weather allowed. Our rides down to the Fox Lake were often foiled by other people and dogs on the shore. I only made it to the Lake Michigan beach a couple times this summer, and I never went swimming. That should be considered at least a venial sin in the evaluation of both my summer and my 65th year. I live on an island, for God’s sake!

So, as I look back over the year, and the summer season, I’d have to say it was not quite as successful as I would have liked. That’s okay. There was joy, and progress, and change. It was not quite a failure, either!

 

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88 Wonderful Things

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Today is my Aunt Katie’s birthday. Tonight, we’ll celebrate with a good meal, cake and ice cream. This morning, I’m making a list…for her 88 years, of many wonderful things that I happen to know and love about her.

  1. Aunt Katie was born on Beaver Island,
  2. the oldest of the two girls
  3. with four brothers
  4. (one of them was my father), and
  5. was the tiniest, at birth, in her family.
  6. They kept her warm by the wood stove,
  7. and she thrived.
  8. She attended Sunnyside School,
  9. which was next door to her house,
  10. so she would walk home for lunch.
  11. That was especially nice on the day her mother baked bread.
  12. Aunt Katie always loved to read.
  13. In her little bedroom at the top of the stairs, she would read by the light of the moon.
  14. At school recess, the girls played baseball right along with the boys.
  15. The nun played, too.
  16. They climbed Mount Pisgah one day on a class excursion,
  17. and another time traveled together to High Island
  18. where they saw remnants of the Israelite’s gardens, still coming up in rows.
  19. Aunt Katie’s mother died when she was eleven years old.
  20. Sometimes, then, she and her sister, Margaret, walked to their Aunt Lizzie’s house in the mornings, so she could braid their hair.
  21. Her father once bought metal dishes because there had been so much breakage,
  22. and she felt offended at the insult.
  23. She went to high school in town,
  24. and graduated with a smaller class than she had started with
  25. because most of the boys had dropped out.
  26. She worked, then as a waitress,
  27. at a restaurant that sat where the old part of the hardware store is now,
  28. while she waited for her sister to graduate, so they could move to the city together.
  29. She still remembers who the poor tippers were!
  30. She and Margaret shared a basement apartment in Pontiac, when they first left the island.
  31. Aunt Katie worked behind the soda fountain at a drugstore,
  32. until she landed a job in the mail room at Pontiac Motors.
  33. She worked there until she retired,
  34. during which time she often had to train young men to do the job,
  35. and then watch them be promoted before her, because “a man has a family to support.”
  36. The irony was not lost on my Aunt Katie,
  37. who recognized the injustice
  38. but lived with it.
  39. She had her own home, with taxes and expenses just like anyone,
  40. and a car payment,
  41. and she helped others when she could.
  42. She took in her Uncle Joe, and he lived under her roof until he died.
  43. On weekends, Aunt Katie played golf in the summertime,
  44. and was on a bowling league in the winter.
  45. By the time she retired, she had many trophies for both sports.
  46. Sometimes, on Sunday, Aunt Katie would come to visit us.
  47. If we were lucky, she’d bring a treat.
  48. Aunt Katie made the world’s best chocolate chip cookies.
  49. She still does!
  50. One Christmas, she brought “Harvey Wallbanger Cake,” with flavors of orange and rum.
  51. She was my Confirmation sponsor.
  52. On her vacation, Aunt Katie often came to Beaver Island.
  53. She rarely came alone.
  54. She’d pick up a few nieces and nephews to give them a chance to get away.
  55. Often, it was the Evans boys.
  56. One especially hot trip, when traffic was moving slowly, she remembers that all of those long-legged boys were sprawled out, with feet and legs hanging out of the windows!
  57. Once, she brought Brenda and I.
  58. First we got car-sick, then sea-sick, then home-sick. She sent us back, early, with Uncle Henry and Aunt Betty.
  59. Many years later, she gave me a second chance, and brought me on vacation with two of my cousins.
  60. She gave me my first chance to drive a car, here on Beaver Island.Not knowing what the accelerator was (as in “take your foot off the accelerator!”), I drove right into a ditch.
  61. Aunt Katie made a shockingly low wage, through all of her working career,
  62. but she was careful with her earnings, and wise in her investments.
  63. She took many of her nieces and nephews aside, if they showed any inclination or desire in their studies, and offered to pay their way through college.
  64. Several of us accepted loans from her for other reasons.
  65. Aunt Katie was able to retire on schedule…maybe a little ahead of schedule,
  66. and has now been retired longer than she worked,
  67. which was one of her goals.
  68. After retirement, Aunt Katie moved back to the family farm,
  69. where she has made necessary and helpful improvements to the house and grounds.
  70. She worked on the Board of Review for quite a while,
  71. and has always taken an interest in politics, both local and national.
  72. Aunt Katie has visited many areas of the United States
  73. and she has traveled the world!
  74. She keeps up with the news
  75. and knows more about the Dow Jones numbers than I ever will!
  76. She has been active in the church, and – until recently – rarely missed Sunday mass.
  77. She planted a big garden for many years,
  78. and now lets her nephew do the gardening.
  79. She just canned a dozen pints of stewed tomatoes for me!
  80. She still welcomes her many nieces and nephews when they come to visit,
  81. and she opens her home to our friends, Bob and Gary when they are on the island.
  82. Her sister is able to come, too, now and then.
  83. Aunt Katie loves dogs, and usually has one around.
  84. She grumbles about her memory, but it’s better than mine,
  85. and she has a sharp wit.
  86. She is stubborn – a family trait.
  87. her health is not what it once was, but she manages,
  88. and she still enjoys a beer and a bit of conversation.

May your birthday be everything you want it to be! Happy Birthday, Aunt Katie!

One Productive Day

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Oh, my gosh, that title deserves an exclamation point!

The countdown is on, with just a few days until my birthday. This will be my sixty-fourth. That seems as momentous as any of the thirty, forty, fifty, sixty milestone birthdays, and even more meaningful than the sixty-fifth. Why? Well, sixty-five no longer means retirement. Even if I were not on the “work until death” track, sixty-six would be the minimum desired age for retirement considering social security benefits. “Sixty-five” is still more than a year away, while “sixty-four” is right here. Finally and most importantly, because the Beatles sang about age sixty-four. It’s been in my head for weeks…”Will ya still need me, will ya still feed me…when I’m sixty-four?”

So, with a momentous birthday coming up, I’ve been making self-improvement plans. My birthday is second only to January first when it comes to recharging and renovating my entire life. So far, I have started reading The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr, 59 Seconds (Think a little, Change a lot) by Professor Richard Wiseman, and 52 Small Changes (One year to a happier, healthier you) by Brett Blumenthal. I’m also working through a book of inspirational quotes that my sister Brenda gave me. I scheduled a mammogram. I started a new journal. As a gift to myself, I met with a psychic/ Tai Chi instructor/ reiki healer for an insightful session. I have plans to get a new haircut, improve my diet and solidify an exercise habit. I am going to do better about making this house a pleasant place to be. This is just the beginning!

Yesterday was a good start. I accomplished a great deal in nine hours at work. I restocked shelves, then went down the housewares, paint, caulk and cleaning aisles to add items to this week’s order. I tidied areas of the basement and brought up all the corrugated cardboard for recycle. I organized the overhead storage of buckets, cleaning products and drywall corner bead. Finally, near the end of the day and with Kathleen’s help, I brought the Libman display upstairs and started putting it together.

After work, I filled the car up with gas, came home, picked up the dogs and took them to Fox Lake. I did not carry the little dog to the car when I wanted to leave, but waited until the dogs were ready to go. It was a humid day, and they were loving the water. Rosa Parks went in swimming six times! Darla waded the shoreline, investigating prints left by horses in the sand. We didn’t get home until after eight o’clock. By then, they were wondering why I was so late with their dinner!

While the dogs were eating, I put what was left of a roast chicken in a big pot of water with carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and mushrooms, to make soup. I hooked up my new dryer vent, and did a load of wash. I washed a sink full of accumulated bowls, cups and silverware, took the compost out to the bin, swept the kitchen, then sat down to supper…at eleven o’clock at night. It was a really productive day. I don’t know how many more of them I can stand!

Birthdays Past

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Brenda & Cindy with Mom, on the car deck of the Beaver Island ferry, circa. 1955

Today is my Mom’s birthday.

When we were very small, Mom’s birthday meant a homemade card, and bouquets of dandelions. She was always very gracious.

As we got older, we added a cake to the list, baked in her kitchen, with her ingredients. We probably left a mess behind.

There were quite a few years when one of her children, as a representative for the family, would call Perkins Flower Shop and order a bouquet of roses to be delivered to her. As Mom had a charge there, they added it to her bill.

As adults, the gifts became more thoughtful. A dinner out, a night of entertainment, cards and gifts.

The ones that came from me, more often than not, were late in arriving. It wasn’t that I ever forgot; I was just lax in getting those packages and letters to the post office in time to arrive by her birthday. “It’s a good thing you had lots of kids,” I would say, “so at least some of them are thoughtful and on time!” Still, she was always very gracious.

Like so many things, Mom’s birthday has taken on greater significance since she’s been gone. It never goes by these days without consideration and gratitude for her having been a part of my life. As always, she’s on my mind and in my heart today.

 

 

Sixty

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Sheila, summer 2011

I can clearly remember when Mom first brought Sheila home from the hospital, placed her in the bassinet, and gathered us around to see the new baby. Brenda was four years old, I was three and Ted was one. Our birthdays were all in August. Sheila was born March first.

She was born in a leap  year, barely missing the 29th of February. She was almost named Sherry, but Mom’s friend Pat (later Pat Burris), who lived in the little cottage next door, had her baby first, and took the name. Mom resented that for the rest of her life.

Sheila was Mom’s biggest baby yet, and she held that record through all eleven children. She wasn’t a big kid, though. She was always small and slender. As an adult, she was the shortest of all of us. She always had quite a presence, though.

She still does, in my memories of her. There she is, in childhood antics, games, plans and fights. There she is, babysitting for my little ones. There, at Christmas, with little gifts for everyone. Sheila is there, in memories that stretch back almost sixty years, to that first introduction.

Unfortunately, Sheila didn’t last that long. She died in August, 2011. Today would have been her sixtieth birthday. Happy Birthday, dear sister!

 

After the Party

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After days of covert travel and secretive blogging, I arrived at my sister Brenda’s house in Lapeer on Friday evening. She was surprised to see me.

“Your blog said you were going to Jen’s first!”

True. I told Brenda – on the phone – that I was coming to her house. In my blog, I said I was going to meet up with my daughter, to work on the news-magazine.

That’s because my sister Amy also reads my blog. If I had said I was coming to Lapeer, Amy’s suspicions – that her daughters were going to throw a surprise birthday party for her – would have been confirmed.

Actually, Amy’s surprise 50th birthday party was my sole reason for extending my travel beyond Aunt Katie’s doctor visits.

Since I’m here, I will get together with my daughter Jen to do some work on the Beacon. I’ll get out to see my daughter Kate’s new house in Clifford. I will stay for Thanksgiving. I thought I’d even get into North Branch yesterday, for my mother-in-law Pat’s surprise 80th birthday party…but weather got in the way of that.

Though big wintery clouds were constant, the weather was clear for my drive down-state. Yesterday morning there was just a dusting of snow. I planned to drive to Clifford, then to North Branch (the surprise was scheduled for 3PM there), then back to Lapeer to be at Amy’s party by six. We had visitors, so I didn’t get out of the house as early as planned. Then the snow started seriously piling up, accompanied by winds that kept the roads slick and the visibility low.

First I delayed going, then I decided not to try it at all. The first snow is always the worst for accidents, before we remember how to navigate through winter weather. I’d been on the road seven hours the day before, and wasn’t up for more, especially fighting through a snowstorm. I would have loved to give Pat my good wishes, but wasn’t crazy about being stranded with my ex-husband’s relatives. Finally, I couldn’t chance missing Amy’s party.

My other sisters – Robin and Cheryl – had arrived at Brenda’s shortly after I did on Friday. Cheryl thought we should do a “production number” to honor Amy. She had several ideas in the works, that we tossed around. We finally decided on “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” re-written to say “Aaamyyy…Don’t Let Age Get You Down,” with lyrics pertaining to her legendary forgetfulness (can’t blame that on age!) and the fact that all of us are older than she is. My grandson Brandon found the background music for us (“Make it really loud,” I told him…to drown out our poor singing voices and help to keep us on track). My brother-in-law Keith did a mid-night shopping run for poster board, glitter, ribbon and markers. We made a giant four-part birthday card, that we’d wear for our “performance.” As Cheryl left, she suggested we all arrive a little early, “for rehearsal.”

With snow piling up, we received phone calls throughout the day from cousins and friends that weren’t going to be able to make it. Keith came in shaking his head about the bad roads. Brenda accidentally exploded a whole spaghetti squash in the microwave oven: clean-up was necessary. Still, we all managed to be showered and dressed in reasonable time. The party was less than four miles away…no problem. Well, in Keith’s little hybrid car…on un-plowed roads…with snowfall of close to a foot, plus drifts…in a blinding snowstorm…that was a long four miles…ending with getting firmly stuck at the end of the driveway!

We made it though, and the party was wonderful. Amy seemed surprised and pleased by all of it. Our little production number went without a hitch except for our bright blushing faces.

Today, the storm is over. The snow has transformed the landscape into a beautiful winter wonderland, and I’m happy to be here with my family.

 

 

Presents/Presence

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I made it through another birthday.

I am still here.

The longer I live, the more it seems death is all around me.

All of my grandparents are gone, though their stories still guide me. Both of my parents are gone; I seem stubbornly unable to get used to that fact, and still enjoy their influence in many aspects of my life. Of eleven brothers and sisters, there are only six left. I miss the ones that have died, and cherish the ones still here. That’s all I can do.

At my class reunion in July, it was noted that a full ten percent of our graduating class had passed on. Another member died this week. In every case, I think, “Oh, so young!” I am, of course, remembering them as they were in high school.

I guess I’m not “so young” anymore. That is made clear every time a friend, acquaintance or family member dies. It’s always too soon and I am never prepared. It may even, age-wise, be a bit below the average life-expectancy…but, clearly, I am now in that age where loss of contemporaries is a big part of life.

It seems the only thing to do, while I’m still here, is to truly be present in this world, in my life.

Early birthday celebrations with my family and friends brought good wishes and cards and gifts: books, bags and bath salts, bottles of wine and a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Creme. Later, an annual birthday dinner with my cousins provided much laughter and good cheer, and more thoughtful presents. There were cards in the mail and hand-delivered cards and messages. A complete birthday meal, fully prepared, wrapped and delivered by my friend, Pam, to be reheated at dinnertime. Over one hundred birthday greetings on Facebook. Telephone calls from each of my daughters and from one grandson, each one a treasured gift.

There have been unexpected presents. I was invited to attend a benefit dinner, held at a stately old island home. We dined on lobster and steak under a beautiful evening sky. I received a big bouquet of gladiolus from two nice ladies who accepted a ride to the grocery store with me. A big, flowered bag was hanging on my doorknob the other day, filled with treats and treasures and a thank-you note. It was from my neighbors, who have a rustic cabin in the woods, and – with my blessing – draw water from my well when they are on the island. None of the gift-givers knew it was my birthday week!

There are other gifts:

  • My little dog, who wakes me with kisses, and greets me at the end of the day with a wildly wagging tail, who entertains me, keeps me company and makes me laugh every single day.
  • A doe and her twin fawns, who I often see at the end of the Fox Lake Road.
  • The wild blackberries ripening in the fields around my house.
  • Fox Lake, a short drive from my home, where the dog loves the smells, and I love the view.
  • My aunt, who struggles with health issues but is still able to share stories, opinions and memories from her long life.
  • A job that supports me, and gives me a feeling of accomplishment. I would never have predicted that I would be capable of tasks like cutting and threading pipe, making keys and mixing paint, and that I would get such satisfaction from the ability to do them.
  • Other jobs that enrich me: artist, baker, cook, gardener, writer.
  • My big, blessed family.
  • My friends, far and near.
  • My home, shelter in this world.
  • The moon, last night, in that deep blue sky.
  • The big owl that nests nearby, perches on my fence post, and spreads his wings to fly when I come home after dark (and who, thank God, leaves my little dog alone!).
  • The sunrise every morning and the sunset every night.
  • This beautiful island in the middle of Lake Michigan.
  • The beach all around, with stunning views all year.

These are the gifts that I tend to take for granted, that go too often unnoticed or unappreciated.

It seems the best thing to do, while I’m still here, is to truly be present in this world, in my life.