Tag Archives: Jennifer

Tuesday: Exercises in Writing #17

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From Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg:

Tell me all you know about Texas.

I know almost nothing about Texas. I almost said I’ve never been there, but then I remembered that I was. Still, I don’t know much.

My sister Brenda knows Texas. When she was in the eighth grade, she chose that state to do a major report about. She wrote to whatever agencies a student would write to to gain information. She received a fat manila envelope filled with maps and brochures. She clipped photos from them to illustrate her project. She added to her knowledge with research from our own encyclopedias, and from books she borrowed from the library. She typed her report and put it all together in a brown duo tang folder. I was intrigued, as I was was always interested in anything Brenda was doing, but I didn’t pay that much attention.

Many years later, my sisters, Sheila and Robin, their husbands and my brother David all moved to Texas. I didn’t pay attention then, either. They went to the gulf, to go swimming. David had an accident at his workplace that – I think – resulted in an injury to his feet. That’s all I know.

When my oldest daughter was a young adult, she moved to Texas with her fiance, who was transferred there for his job. I visited her there. She had a boa constrictor, and a small collection of mice that had started out as live food for the snake, and became pets when he took too long to devour them.

I spent a great deal of time sitting near her pool with a book. My daughter and I were both reading The Clan of the Cave Bear series, by Jean M. Auel. We hadn’t yet gotten tired of the huge swaths of repetitive background information she inserted between every new occurrence, and enjoyed sharing our thoughts on how the story was developing.

One day, we went for a long drive; I don’t remember the reason or the destination. Cities in Texas can annex surrounding lands as long as they are able to provide services for them. Because of this, highways are expanded outward in the most confusing manner, running in ever larger circles around the heart of the city. That’s the only thing I learned about the state while I was there.

Many years after that, my sister Nita moved to San Antonio, Texas. Her grown children lived there, too, during much of the time that she was there. Nita loved the heat, worked – when she could – at a small factory, and lived in a community with many people who spoke mainly Spanish.

Finally, last year, my sisters Brenda and Cheryl, with their partners, went to Texas on vacation. Brenda had a bout of vertigo, and missed some of the side trips. The weather was grand. The food was good.

That, I think, is every single thing I know about the state of Texas!

 

Our New Lives

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Jennifer (on the far left) with Sister Marie Eugene and her first grade class on the first day of school

The day after my daughters and I arrived on Beaver Island, in the fall of 1978, I had to get my oldest enrolled in the First Grade. The little community school was staffed mainly by Catholic nuns, who stayed in the convent during the school year, but were away when school was not in session. There had been no one there to help me with arrangements during any of our four visits to the island that summer, so it all had to be done right away.

I started with a telephone call to the convent. Sister Mary Rock, the principal, set a time to meet us at the school. Jennifer would be in Sister Marie Eugene’s room. For the first semester, grades one, two and three shared the teacher and the classroom. When the second semester started, the kindergarten class would be added. Though kindergarten was only one semester long, the students performed well. Jennifer had excelled in every area in kindergarten at Schickler School. Here, we found she was two readers behind. She was also going to have to catch up in Spanish, which they didn’t introduce at the kindergarten level in Lapeer!

Finished with the enrollment process, our next stop was the Shamrock Bar and Restaurant. I had secured a job there, and needed to let them know when I’d be available to start work. I was given a couple uniforms – two sizes too large and of horrid mint green polyester – and a schedule. Though I had never been a waitress before, no training was offered. “You’ll be fine,” the owner told me, “just keep smiling!”

Next, we stopped in to see Carol LaFreniere. She had agreed to take care of my girls when I was working and to see that Jen got to and from school safely. Carol was a pleasant woman with a keen sense of humor and three little red-headed children. My girls had met her on one of our summertime visits, so there were no surprises. I shared my schedule with her and discussed any possible problems. We were ready!

At the farmhouse, we walked the fields. I kept the lawn mowed. We ate our meals together at the big table in the kitchen. We washed our clothes with the wringer washer, and hung them out on the clothesline to dry. We read together every evening.

On warm days, we gravitated toward the water, that year more than any other. On the beach at Iron Ore Bay, the day before my husband was set to come to the island, we piled sand into giant letters that spelled out, “Welcome, Daddy!” After he arrived, on one beautiful October day, we went back there for a day-long outing. We brought picnic fare, and built a bonfire to cook fish fillets and vegetables all wrapped in individual foil packets. We wandered the beach, finding shells and stones. When the air, toward evening, was getting cooler, the water felt perfect. We all swam, at dusk, then wrapped up in towels and blankets around the fire. We drove back to the farmhouse under a sky full of stars.

Jennifer did well in the new school. She caught up quickly with the lessons; she made friends. Both Jen and Kate did fine at Carol’s house. My husband started work right away, and seemed to like it. As for me and the Shamrock, well…that’s a story all on its own!

 

The Lake House (Continuing)

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Jennifer and Cindy, Christmas morning, 1972

Beyond helping me to remember when events happened, having children gave me a reason to take pictures. For years, I took pictures every day! I bought one role of film every week with groceries. I had to! I could see my daughter changing, learning, growing…how could I not record the process?

When my husband and I sat down to discuss the budget, the amount I spent at the grocery store was  an issue. We were always behind on payments. Utilities were often on the verge of being turned off. The rent – owed to my husband’s parents – was constantly behind. After a year or so of that arrangement, they offered to sell us the house, with the agreement that we would actually make the payments. Fair enough, it seemed. After that, we were constantly behind on the land contract. Other than my husband’s allowance (for gas for his truck, coffee or lunches at the restaurant, cigarettes if he ran out, a night out to “practice with the band”), groceries were the only variable expense. Since he felt his allowance was sacred and untouchable, cuts had to be made in the grocery bill.

Item by item, we would talk it through. I was a careful shopper, so food was rarely an issue. Sometimes it was suggested that I cut out some of the fresh fruits or vegetables, but that argument never went far. I didn’t buy pop, beer or snack foods. Paper diapers, baby food and formula were a necessity, when we had a baby in the house. No argument there. Sometimes I had to defend one cleaning product or another, but that was easy enough. I wasn’t a very good housekeeper, so anything to encourage me was okay. Then it came to my wasteful, unnecessary purchases. I defended them so often, I can remember the words exactly.

“Yes, one skein of yarn! One dollar and thirty-nine cents, only. I am working on Christmas presents. That afghan for your parents [never finished, by the way], the slippers, the toys…”

Family Circle magazine is my only luxury! Thirty-five cents! How is it going to fix our budget, even if I give up the one thing I buy just for myself??” [I poured over those magazines and saved them as if they were gold…or National Geographic!]

“One role of film! Isn’t our daughter worth one role of film?”

So, I always had film, and I took pictures every day. Unfortunately, there was no money for developing the film (that was another argument, categorized under “the sacrifices I have made”). Years later, when I sent them off to Fuji Film for processing, most of the photos came back blurry and dark. Of those, it seems like the best ones have gone: to the baby books I put together for my daughters; to Terry, after our divorce, so he’d have some of the baby pictures, too; to my children and grandchildren when something caught their eye. Just because of the sheer quantity, I still have a few blurry images.

From them, it is definitely clear what a cute little girl I had, but it’s not really possible to get an idea of the layout of our little house. Because I’ve wasted so much time reliving arguments and laying the groundwork, the actual inside of the Lake House will have to wait.

Before I Go…

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Found another picture! This one of Jennifer and Fritz, playing together with his yarn toy

Before I leave the downstairs apartment on Court Street, there are a couple other random thoughts that come to mind.

My husband’s cousin, Steve, lived just two blocks away with his wife Ami and their daughter Chrissy.  When Chrissy was born, Steve came knocking on our door in the middle of the night to get Terry. “Ya gotta come see her,” he said, excitedly, “she looks just like a night crawler!” Well, she was a long, skinny baby, but beautiful. As an infant, she’d get one leg kicking, as she lay on her back making baby noises. It reminded her parents of Thumper,  the rabbit in the Disney movie, Bambi, so that’s what they called her. The nickname stuck, at least until she started school. Steve and Terry(my husband) formed a band. They got together most weekends to play guitars and drink. Ami and I had both come from large families, and we’d both grown up on Lake Nepessing. Sometimes we visited while the guys practiced.

When I came home from the hospital with my new baby, my husband’s Uncle Ronny and his girlfriend, Caroline, followed us right into the driveway. They were excited to meet the newest addition to the family. I was appalled! I didn’t want company! I was tired and sore and a little frightened of parenthood. I did not feel like being social. I didn’t want people picking up my baby! The apartment was so open, there was no escape. I couldn’t close myself and my baby in the bedroom, as there was only a sheer curtain to divide it from the living room. I rudely sulked the entire time they were there. I didn’t offer to make coffee; I barely spoke. When Caroline asked if she could hold Jennifer, I blurted, “I’ve hardly had a chance to hold her myself!” They didn’t stay long.

My husband went back to work the day after that. His grandmother Ida Mae, who we called “Grandma B”, came four days in a row to help me while Terry was at work. Sometimes, when Jennifer was sleeping, I’d take a nap. I rested easier knowing that Grandma B was there. She was moral support more than anything, but it was a pleasure to have her around. She told me about moving households with a horse and open cart – in the pouring rain – with four little children, and how their mattresses were all drenched by the time they reached their destination. She told me about when her son, Bob, was born. The doctor came by later and hefted him, estimated his weight – from experience  – and told her what a big, healthy baby she had. It’s odd to think that Ida Mae was probably, then, about the age that I am now…she seemed so ancient!

That’s about all I remember from this old address. We were on Court Street – in two different apartments – for about eighteen months. I didn’t realize how much I liked living in town, until I moved away. Having grown up out in the country, I thought that was ideal, especially when raising a family. When the opportunity came up, we moved.

My Week Away…and Other Distractions

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The sun was shining yesterday, when I made my way home down the Fox Lake Road after a week away.

Today, it’s raining.

That’s fine with me, as I have work inside. I’m finding plenty of things to lead me away from the writing and other desk work I have to do; I can live without the further distractions of yard and garden.

After a day’s delay in leaving the island, several hours of waiting for the fog to clear for the flight to the mainland and a great deal of traffic and road work to make the drive a nerve-wracking one, I had a good time down-state. My sister,  Brenda, included me in her twice-a-week water aerobics class. Another sister, Cheryl, arranged for all of the sisters  – along with our friend, Joel – to play Pub Trivia one night. Another evening, we played Scrabble. I had good visits with each of my daughters. I received a beautiful hand-forged gift from Kate’s husband, my son-in-law, Jeremy. I had the opportunity to become better acquainted with Jennifer’s friend, Jamey. I met my two little great-granddaughters for the first time, and managed to get hugs and smiles from each of them. I spent a wonderful afternoon with Madeline and Tommy, wandering in and out of the galleries, bookstores and specialty shops that – along with a few good restaurants – have come to define downtown Lapeer, Michigan. I met the newest member of our family, my grand-niece Hannah, just ten days old. I had a nice visit with my brother, Ted. My brother-in-law, Keith, presented me with a pair of cowboy boots that he found for a price he couldn’t pass up. They fit me perfectly! The week was filled with walking and shopping, and lots of catching-up. There were meals out and meals in, all wonderful, and even better for the companionship and lively conversation. .It was a good week!

Now, it’s time to get back to work.

I made a pot of coffee and turned the computer on first thing, ready to get at it.

And yet…

The little dog reminds me frequently that – after a week alone in the kennel – she needs attention. Rosa Parks is a very social animal, and this was her first trip to the boarders without Clover to share her space. Dropping her off alone was traumatic for me (I saw none of the usual tail-wagging when we got there) and I’m thinking it seemed like a long, lonely week for her. When she wants attention, I indulge her; I was lonesome for her, too.

I have made several trips to the laundry room, to keep things moving there.

I’ve paused more than once to page through new reading material – books and magazines – that came home with me.

I called to check balances on each of my credit cards, to assess my spending habits while away.

I threw out a bouquet of long-dead tulips and watered my houseplants.

I went through a stack of mail, made a grocery list, answered a few Emails and returned a couple telephone calls.

I balanced my checkbook.

Then, it seemed of absolute necessity to report here, on my trip.

That’s it…I’m done! It’s time to get down to work…just as soon as I put those clothes in the dryer.

Happy Birthday, Baby!

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This is not only my story.

I think every mother harbors the same wonder at the birth of a child.

When I look back to the day Jennifer came into my life, it’s almost like I was a newborn, too, learning about life and the world around me through the brand new lens of motherhood.

Who could guess a heart could hold so much love?

Who could predict the absolute, humbling awe at the wonder of every single expression, each finger and toe, every dimple, every precious hair on the head?

No one could possibly foresee the depths of worry and despair this child could invoke with a fever, a skinned knee or (dread!) hurt feelings.

I, who took this new job – “mama” – very seriously, never saw the laughter, the giggles, the fun and the intense, heart-thumping joy this child would bring.

She still does!

Happy Birthday, Jennifer!

Happy Birthday, Jennifer!

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There were times, I have to admit, mostly during Jen’s teen-age years, when time seemed to slow right down.

A few mornings that I woke up thinking, “How long can this go on??”

For the most part, though, I loved being a parent.

I love it, still, though my daughters are grown and gone, with lives and families of their own.

And, mostly, the years have flown by leaving only memories snagged as the days rushed past.

The answer, I can say with certainty, is “Not long enough!”.

Happy, happy birthday to my beautiful daughter, Jennifer!

Jennifer

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Forty years ago, it was all about me. That was when my oldest daughter was born.

Every woman that has ever given birth has vivid memories of all occurrences surrounding that event. We each have our own stories; I won’t trouble you with mine, beyond these few reminiscences.

We were nineteen, naive and frightened, trying hard to be grown-up with little idea of what that entailed.

My husband started out driving too fast to the hospital. I told him it wasn’t necessary to speed. He checked it back and stayed within the speed limit while, jaws clenched, he drove through every single stop sign and red light without stopping, all the way to the hospital.

We had agreed that this would be our time, that we’d make calls to family and friends after our baby was born. As soon as he got me checked into a room, my husband called his parents and mine, begging them all to come right away. I think he may have called an uncle and a couple cousins, too.

At one point my mother came and sat at my bedside. I was in hard labor. “Oh, Mom, this really hurts,” I said. “Oh for heaven’s sake, Cindy, don’t you think I know that?!?” was her quick reply. I should have known better than to try to garner sympathy from someone who had given birth eleven times!

At three o’clock in the morning, Sunday, January 23rd, the nurse put my baby girl in my arms. I opened the blankets…counted fingers and toes…ran a finger along her tiny cheek… a palm over her small head…and fell madly in love with my new daughter.

It was all about me that night. Today, it’s all about her.

Happy Birthday, Jennifer!