Tag Archives: life

What About L.Y.?

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Our community lost another friend last week, with the passing of Jack Gallagher. This has been a rough winter so far, here on Beaver Island.

First Tom, who died right after Christmas of a rare disease that took him quickly and left us all shaking our heads. He was so young! Only fifty-six years old, with a memorable laugh and a ready smile, Tom did cement and masonry work, and always seemed the picture of good health.

Next Skip, who was the matriarch of a large island family and a good friend to all. Then Jean, an active and respected business woman. Both of these ladies, though in their eighties, were so full of energy one would think they would keep going for years to come. Now, Jack: the third octogenarian we have lost this year.

This I know: no matter that every single person will meet their end, no matter the age, the level of health or all the warnings, death always takes us by surprise. It always seems too soon, and that we’re not quite prepared for it. Sometimes the dying are more prepared than those of us left behind.

After work on Friday, I walked down to our Community Center, where family and friends were gathering to honor Jack’s life. We talked about his diligence and devotion, his head often bent over account books. There were several examples of his wry sense of humor, his kindness, and his devotion to family and community. There were tears, but also laughter. There was agreement that he’d lived a good life. And that he was ready to go.

The “good death” seems to come up in conversation quite a bit anymore. Maybe it was always so, and I just hadn’t paid attention. Having lost three community members all in their eighties in just a couple weeks, I mentioned a quote I’d seen recently: “When an old person dies, it’s like a library has burned down.” We commiserated a little about all the oral history that is lost, with a death.

That was on my mind after I got home, as I was walking the dogs in the near dark. When Aunt Katie, who had always been willing to answer questions and elaborate on her history, died, it seemed like there were a million questions I wished I had asked, and another million things I should have written down. If I could talk to her again, I’d pay better attention, and I’d have pen and paper ready!

If I could have another conversation with my Dad, I’d beg him to repeat all the stories he tried to tell us when we were young, as he drove us around the island. Then, we rolled our eyes and let his words flow on without notice. I’d do better now. If I had another opportunity, I’d encourage him with the names I can remember, and the portions of the tales that I can recall.

There was one about a wake. Somebody, I think it was Patsy Doney, was taking his turn sitting with the body, while others were congregating in the other rooms. There was plenty of drinking going on. Somebody had the idea to pull a joke on Patsy (or whoever it was), and somehow made the corpse move, causing Patsy (or whoever) to jump (or nearly jump) out of the second story window. By this point in the story, my Dad would be laughing so hard, he could barely get the words out. Not knowing any of the characters, none of us children cared. I’d love a another chance to hear that one, and many others!

I’m sure there is wisdom and history my mother could impart, as well. If I were given a chance to talk to her, though, I’m afraid I’d waste the visit on getting the facts about L.Y. I’ve been puzzling over that for years, and it drives me crazy that I never thought about it when Mom was around to ask!

Gladys and L.Y. Crandall were friends of my mother, but mostly friends of her mother. They lived on the lake where I grew up, and were around quite a bit while my grandmother was alive. What kind of name is L.Y., for heaven’s sake? I always thought it was Elwye, and maybe it was. I never thought about it much, or questioned it at all, until after Mom was gone, and tthere was no one to ask. Now, I think about it a lot.

If the name is Elwye, how is it spelled, and what kind of name is that? If it is initials, more likely, I have concluded, what on earth does L.Y. stand for? The L could be anything: Lloyd, Laurence, Lancelot…but what about the Y? There are few choices, and none seem very likely: Yasir, Yoel, Yanni, Yuri, Yale. With a surname like Crandall, I wouldn’t expect such exotic-sounding choices. Whatever the answer, I know there’s a story there. I just wish Mom were around to tell it!

Days Gone By

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Here it is, the first of September.

Another summer season gone.

Where?

These flowers open and bloom for one day.

Sometimes I notice how beautiful they are.

Sometimes I pay attention to all of the blossoms, and how many buds are waiting to open.

Too often I see how many spent blooms need to be removed.

Maybe that’s the gardener in me.

Maybe it has  more to do with age, or just my perspective of the world.

I find myself – too often – looking with pensive sadness at days gone by, unretrievable, rather than the days ahead.

Rather, even, than this present, precious day.

September is a time of change on Beaver Island.

The Labor Day weekend marks the end of our tourist season. Children are soon going back to school. Summer residents and visitors are packing up and closing cabins. There is a hint of Fall and the premonition of Winter in our cool nights and chilly mornings. The growing season is nearing its end.

This is a time of good-byes.

My birthday, falling near the end of August, gets my mind going to times past and years gone by.

The melancholy persists with the end of Summer and all the changes it brings.

Punctuated, this year, by the death of a dear one.

Bill Cashman was a good friend to Beaver Island. Map-maker, builder, writer, historian…Bill wore many hats, and wore them all with a dapper sensitivity to this island and its people. He had a keen knack for seeing and encouraging the strengths of any individual. He was a champion of lost-causes and long-shots, and often doggedly pursued an idea that he deemed worthy when all around him were prepared to abandon it.

Bill was a long and good friend to me. He hired my husband and took an interest in our family. He supplied some of the materials to build our little house. He supported me early on in my artistic endeavors, and later helped to set up a website to feature my Collagraph work. He visited my house several times to see my new work and  take notes on my processes. Bill encouraged and promoted my writing, through all my lazy, procrastinating tactics to avoid it.

I ran into Bill in the Post Office just two days before he died. Both on the run, we exchanged pleasantries.

He’d been battling cancer for quite some time. He was skinny and pale, but had a bounce in his step and a twinkle in his eye.

“Good!” was his emphatic response to my “How are ya?”

Bill knew how to appreciate the present moment!

As we move into the shortening days of Autumn, through sad good-byes and seasons past, I aspire to do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brother, David

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There’s a story in my family that my brother, David, was given nine lives.

Speaking to David about his many misadventures, and later to his friends and other siblings, I would have had to place that number closer to twenty.

There was the sledding accident that broke long bones and left him chair-bound for months.  The fight that resulted in a broken jaw. Riding home at night on a bicycle, David was hit by a car. Once  “road-surfing” on the roof of a van, he took a nasty fall onto the pavement. There was a fall from a roof. There were several near-drowning incidents on Lake Nepessing, in all seasons of the year.

Once, walking home on the side of a narrow road, someone opened a car door as they went by, knocking David into a pole, then into the lagoon. He crawled out of the water covered with cuts, abrasions and bruises…but also with sludge, slime and seaweed. He went door-to-door looking for assistance, terrifying the home-owners with his “Creature from the Black Lagoon” appearance. He walked all the way home. That’s when Mom took care of him. Dad later told how his midnight snack was rendered almost inedible due to the screams coming from the next room as Mom treated David’s wounds with mercurochrome and hydrogen peroxide.

David was one of the youngest in our large family. His brother, most of his other sisters and I have memories that stretch back to his birth. Many of us had turns rocking him to sleep. Amy, the only one younger than David, shared memories and experiences unique to the two of them, as the “babies” in the family.

As an infant, David had tiny dimples in the top of each ear, and eyes so large that his eyelids didn’t quite cover them when he slept. I was appalled when, many years later, I answered the phone at my parents house and the caller asked for “Bug-Eye”…but the reference was obvious. The nick-name didn’t bother David (he laughingly called it his “prison name”), but we didn’t use it. To us he was just Dave, or David.

When David was little, Mom called him “BeetleBomb,” after a horse that was always coming from behind to win a race. She also called him “Boodler,” because he was one. We called him Davey. Grandma Florence called him “Crocket.” I can picture him, still, as that little guy…cowboy hat hanging down his back, shirtless, holster with toy guns riding low on his hips, barefoot, squinting into the sun…

It seems like it was just the blink of an eye, and he was grown.

Busy with my own life, I didn’t see the transition.

David, as an adult, had a toothy grin and a big laugh. He talked too loud and often didn’t know when to “shut up.” He  made all of us cringe with stories of our youth that we’d just as soon forget. He often made us angry with his teasing banter. In fact, when considering his multitude of  “lives”, I should take note of the many times members of his family told him, “David, if you don’t cut it out, I’m gonna kill ya!”

David won the lottery once. Not the millions, but a pretty good sum. He turned it all into cash. No-one saw him for three days! Then he was spotted, his pockets spilling over with bills, coming out of the Eagles tavern. David didn’t go to work for two weeks, but took the whole crew out for steak dinner many nights. He bought drinks all around at every bar he went into. He kept himself pretty well lit until the money ran out.

Though he had little, David bought not one lasting thing with his winnings. He played. I’d like to say it was the time of his life, but I don’t know that to be true. Money – and material things – meant so little to David, winning the lottery was probably not a highlight.

David liked fun. He lived in the moment. He loved the party, the craziness, the giddiness of life. We didn’t have a lot in common in that sense, but we loved each other just the same.

When my father was dying, I flew from Beaver Island to Davison Airport, then ran door-to-door to get to a phone, to get a taxi to take me to the hospital, in hopes of seeing Dad one last time…

When I got to the hospital and walked out of the elevator on my way to Dad’s room, there was my brother, David, passed out asleep in a chair in the hallway. I still smile at the sense of calm and normalcy that vision gave me, at a time when the whole world seemed up-side-down.

Dad’s death changed all of us, for the better.

We came face-to-face with mortality, and so came to be more appreciative of life.

In our usually non-demonstrative family, we have became more generous with hugs, quicker to say, “I love you.” We’ve taken the time to get to know each other better, even when we have little in common.

I grew to know and appreciate David’s wit, intelligence and good-heartedness.

I’m very thankful for that.

As it turned out, even twenty lives wasn’t enough to keep David with us.

In our last conversation, David hanged his head and said, “I guess I should’ve quit drinking two years ago when the doctor told me to…”

Well, I wish he had.

I would love to have my little brother, David, around driving me crazy today and for many years to come…but the time for recriminations was past. I told him one of my memories from his childhood:

Dad would sit in his chair at the head of the long kitchen table, one leg crossed over the other. David – it was Davey back then – would sit on Dad’s raised foot. Dad would hold both of Davey’s hands in his one big hand, and bounce his foot up and down…a “pony ride.” More like a bucking bronco, when Dad was in charge! Then, Dad’s wicked humor coming into play, the foot would go up, Dad would release his grip on Davey’s hands, and the little boy would go flying. He’d land on his feet, if he was lucky, but just as often on his bottom or his belly or his back. As soon as he recovered his breath, Davey would burst into giggles…and go running right back for more. Again and again and again.

“That’s the problem, David,” I told him, “in your entire life, you never have known when to quit!”

It was a good visit.

Though I was pretty sure it was the last time I’d see him, it had to end.  David was tired; I had a schedule to keep.  Hugs all around, and I was out the door, then back in for one last good-bye. As I turned to leave that last time, I put my hand up to wave. David leaned forward in the recliner, smiled and said, “See ya…”

My brother, David, died three years ago today. I still miss him every day, and can picture that smile as if it was yesterday.

Sheila

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Sheila, July 2011

My sister Sheila, who died unexpectedly last August, would have turned 56 years old on the 1st of March.

Sheila was born in a leap year, barely missing making her appearance on February 29th. This leap year, all of the remaining sisters were together on Sheila’s birthday.

We’re a large group; 14 years separate the oldest and the youngest in our family. That’s practically a generation! We are each unique, and different in many ways from our siblings. On the surface, looking at our lifestyles, politics, careers and interests, it sometimes seems surprising that we all grew up in the same household. Within that household, we all formed different bonds with our brothers and sisters. Each of us carries individual memories of Sheila, based on our own relationship with her.

We all loved her. We all miss her. This year – with laughter and tears and lots of good memories – she was a part of our happy time together.

Mom’s Old TypeWriter

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I don’t know when Mom got the old Royal Typewriter. It was new – or nearly new – in my earliest memories of it. Perhaps it had belonged to her mother, and came into our home around the time Grandma Thelma died. Maybe Mom invested in it – as she did the large set of encyclopedias – to enhance the scholastic ability of her children. I don’t think Mom knew how to type, but I guess I don’t know that for sure, either. I think it originally had a hard case that fit over the top and fastened on the bottom, to protect the keys and keep it dust-free. The typewriter was an important, revered object in our house.

As I think about it, very few objects in our chaotic household were treated as important. Mom raised nine children of her own, and always had many more around. She fully expected that “kids will be kids.” That meant, to her, that dishes will get broken, toys will be destroyed, clothes will get stained and furniture will take a beating. Expect it, and learn to live with it. Except for those things that Mom set aside as precious, that were to be handled more cautiously, and treated with love.

Mom’s list was not long: the cedar chest that she’d received from her parents at the occasion of her high school graduation…along with the treasures and memories she kept inside it; books in general, and especially the encyclopedias, which had to be handled carefully, dusted regularly, and always kept in alphabetical order; the good china, which was never used, and the frosted iced tea glasses that had belonged to her mother; the nativity set that was put out at Christmastime and handled so carefully that the straw was still intact on top of the stable and the music box still worked for her great-grandchildren to hear; and the typewriter.

When we came home from school with a “really big research assignment”, we could use the typewriter for the final draft. If we had an important letter to write, the typewriter could be brought to the desk. If we had absolutely run out of options for keeping small children entertained, we could sometimes pull out the typewriter to show them the “magic” of their names appearing on the paper, the sound of the bell alerting them that it was time for their job: using the silver arm to push the carriage back over to the left. Always, the typewriter eraser was close at hand. By the time we got to high school and actually took typing classes, the biggest problem was forgetting the “hunt and peck” method of typing we’d grown so familiar with.

My mother gave me the typewriter when I was a graduate student at Michigan State University. By that time – the late ’80’s – her children were all adults, and the machine sat idle. Though a manual typewriter seemed pretty archaic, it was a godsend to me! The only word processor available  for my use – for the multitude of papers that had to be typed – was at the library, a mile from our apartment, with – often – a long list of students in line to use it. I was a single mother with a full load of classes, and no car. Having the typewriter allowed me to be at home with my daughters in the evenings. Many nights they fell asleep to the sound of me pounding on the typewriter keys, cursing as I reached for the White-Out. I still have several papers written during that time, with the characteristic shading from many corrections.

I made cookbooks for my daughters one Christmas many years ago. The opening page says “so that Jenny and Katey can have the food they grew up with, even when ‘Home’ is far from their Mom’s kitchen”. My methods were ancient by today’s standards. I gathered photographs and had them enlarged and/or cropped as needed. I used rub on Chartpak letters to make the chapter pages. I typed all the recipes on Mom’s old Royal Typewriter. A dozen hours over the course of several days and a couple hundred dollars at Kinko’s,and I was done. That was the last big job for the typewriter.

The machine sat unused after that. Over the years, I moved it from the shelf to the attic to the storage unit. I almost forgot about it. Then things changed:

First, my mother died. Which caused me to reassess everything. Caused me to look with new eyes at everyone and everything she loved. Caused me to cherish everything she had cared about, and everything she had given me.

Next, I saw a lovely room in an art magazine where a typewriter was used for making gift tags, and had a place of honor on the desk.Then I saw a piece on a news program about a typewriter repair person who is enjoying a resurgence of interest in the old machines. Last, I reorganized shelves and books to accommodate a new drawer unit, and ended up with one empty shelf.

Now, Mom’s old typewriter sits with dignity on my kitchen shelf.

…And on to the New Year

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“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one and precious life?”

~Mary Oliver

2012. I’m expecting big changes this year.

I’ve had quite a few ideas swimming around in my head…things I’d like to do or see or be a part of. I’ve entertained these thoughts without judgment and without action. I know it’s too soon after major life trauma to do anything drastic. But I’ve been entertaining some pretty monumental thoughts.

Life is short. That fact has come crystal clear to me in the last several months. In less than two years, I’ve lost two siblings. My brother, David, was ten years younger than me. My sister, Sheila, was four years younger. My mother, almost exactly twenty years older than me and so generally healthy that we fully expected to have her around ’til age 100, died last August. If  I am more fortunate than my brother and sister, and avoid premature death…if  I live as long as my mother did (though I daresay she took much better care of herself than I did for much of my life so far)…I have about 7000 days left. On top of all that, this is the year I will turn 60. So, as Mary Oliver suggests, I’m thinking of what I want to do with my life.   Perhaps that means a change in location or lifestyle or livelihood. Maybe it will just be a greater awareness of and appreciation for my life as it is: a change in perception. Either way, there will be changes.

I’m also planning for small changes this year.

My little dog, Rosa Parks, and I are both going to lose some weight.

I have several variations of my usual collages, paintings and collagraphs underway, and have plans for a series of charcoal drawings.

I intend to learn how to download photos, to improve this blog and so that I can showcase my artwork.

I plan to continue my writing practice. I will also write letters and notes of appreciation regularly.

I am going to organize my time so that I can accomplish what I want to in any given week.

Finally, I am going to live with intention rather than out of habit.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

The Old Year is Done…

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I will not say that 2011 was a good year.

This was the year that my Mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was the year that my sister, Sheila, died suddenly of a stroke, ten days before disease claimed my mother’s life. My sisters and brother, my daughters, nieces and nephews and cousins and so many dear friends came together during that time…to mourn for and honor Sheila, and to help Mom die with dignity, surrounded by those she loved. I came through it dazed, in awe of my Mother, her courage, grace and strength; amazed at the resources the rest of us pulled from, to make it through, and to do it right.

But, three hundred and sixty-five days could not all be bad, at least not for me.

I live in relative comfort in my own home in the United States of America, in the state of Michigan…and I have a job! My home is in the center of a nice little island with sandy beaches and star-filled skies. I have a wonderful, large family and many good friends. I am appreciated for who I am and for the things that I do. I am in good health. There are many blessings.

I spent good time in the studio during the winter months, so had new work to show in the Spring. The “Meet the Artists” day at Livingstone Studio was a big success, and I made several sales.

In April, my daughter, Jen, along with her son, Patrick, and a couple tag-a-longs drove to South Carolina to visit my daughter, Kate, and her family. We hiked in the foothills; we visited art galleries, novelty shops and book stores; we ate at one charming restaurant after another. There was time to relax, and time to reconnect with my daughters, my son-in-law and my grandchildren. It was a good vacation.

In July, my nephew, Tim, married Candace. We already loved her, and felt she was a perfect addition to our family. The wedding was well planned and beautiful, and another chance for our family to come together for a joyful occasion.

In August, I was invited and was able to briefly attend my ex-husband’s family reunion. Though I’ve been divorced for ages, the years I was in that family – aged sixteen through thirty-two – were formative ones. Those people are important to me, and it was nice to see them.

For the first time in thirty years, I have a puppy!

Though I didn’t put in my usual vegetable garden this year, and the entire plot grew up with weeds and neglect, I was able to harvest strawberries and raspberries though June and July, and grapes through September. They thrived despite the lack of care, and I ate my fill, filled my freezer, and shared with friends.

A business trip with my boss in October was helpful beyond my expectations, and a good experience all around. Later that month, my friend, Linda, and I took a weekend for shopping and catching up.A trip in early December gave me a chance to personally deliver Christmas gifts, and reconnect with family and friends. Christmas was filled with unexpected pleasures and gifts.

This year, for the first time in many years, I spent two whole weeks in the home I grew up in, surrounded by my brother and sisters. Though it was a sad, tragic time, we came together in love and loss; we buoyed each other up. We laughed and we cried together. I realized I have much more in common with them than I ever would have imagined. They are all an integral part of my life, and a big influence on the person I am. I feel lucky to be a part of this family.

So, another year is behind me. The events of this year have reshaped my thinking, altered my focus and changed my attitude. I know I’ve grown stronger for what I’ve experienced, and that I’m a better person for what I’ve seen. I still feel sometimes overwhelmed with sadness, but I’m optimistic, too. I’m looking forward to the new year, and the changes it will bring.

Happy New Year!

Hello world!

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“Life is so Short, we should Move very Slowly”

This is my plan:  slow down…savor the days…and the moments that make up the days…treasure each day.

In the last several months, my family has encountered terrible loss and tragedy. As families do, we clung to each other, and we endured. I like to believe we came through it all stronger, kinder and better for what we suffered together. We are buoyed by good news and new beginnings. Our family has also enjoyed a wedding, welcoming a new member to our family group. We’ve loved seeing all the babies and small children at our gatherings, and we’ve appreciated the time to come together with family and friends.

I have felt shattered, ragged and vulnerable…but, one step at a time, I am moving forward.

I choose to live better for what I’ve learned. I want to live with intention, to cherish my life and the family and friends that populate it. I want to notice the moments as they go by…before they’re gone.