Tag Archives: memories

Grandpa Ted

Standard

IMG_2085

Though he died when I was only six years old, my Grandpa Ted has been a big presence in my life.

First the memories: holding his hand as we walked around the big yard our house shared with his; the teasing grin and “I’m gonna give you a pop right in the kisser,” as he’d lean in to kiss my cheek. He sat with us – me, my sister Brenda and brother Teddy – on the white bench under the huge elm trees in the front yard, or on the low bench in the cool shade of the grape arbor in the back yard. I can almost picture his face; I can almost hear his voice.

Next, his influence. He taught me about plants: the sweetness at the heart of a clover blossom; the nut-like flavor of the buds from cheese weed; the bitter taste of dandelion greens. I think of him, still, when I taste those wild flavors. He chronicled our little lives in film. Though he was usually behind the camera, thanks to Grandpa Ted I can still watch my parents with their young family in all seasons of the year.

Then, there are stories. Because I was only six-years-old when Grandpa Ted died, these are not things I knew, but only that I learned as I got older, when my Mom or Dad would reveal things about him. Grandpa Ted was an alcoholic. He would admit himself to a facility once or twice a year to “dry out.” In those days, it was a dangerous process, often involving delirium tremens (DTs), and no medication to ease the transition. Grandpa was a jealous man, and he and my grandmother had terrible, violent fights that would send my mother, when she was a child, running from the house. When they cleared out Grandpa Ted’s garage after his death, they found a whiskey bottle hidden in every cubbyhole.

When my own children – and later my grandchildren – were young, I’d take comfort in how well I remembered Grandpa Ted. If an ache or a bump caused my hypochondriac self to start thinking death was imminent, I’d be consoled by the idea that I would perhaps be remembered, too. As I neared the age of fifty, Grandpa Ted – who died in his early fifties, without warning, of a heart attack – was often on my mind. Did I inherit his faulty heart, along with his bushy eyebrows?

Once, after my dear old friend, Ernie, died, I had a memorable dream. It was one of those that seem real, and every voice is so clear that I’m sure it could be picked up by a tape recorder. There was a noisy throng of people, crowding around a person that I couldn’t see. There, on the outskirts of the throng, was my Grandpa Ted. He spotted me at the same time that I saw him.

His eyebrows raised in recognition, and his face crinkled into a big smile. I made my way toward him. “Look at you…look at you,” he said as he wrapped his arms around me in a big hug. His voice was exactly as I remembered it! He stepped back, patting my shoulders, “Just a second, Sweetheart,” he said, “I want to say hello to this guy…” The crowd opened up, at that moment, so that I could see the person at the center. There was my friend, Ernie, with a little shy, crooked grin, being welcomed with handshakes and pats on the back from all the folks standing there to greet him!

I have never believed in an afterlife as much or as sincerely as I did right after waking from that dream. Most times, I wonder. I fall into the “I don’t know” category. I like the idea of reincarnation. I feel certain I’ve had profound and real visits from the spirit world. Heaven sounds nice, too, though I could do without hell. There is some sense behind the idea of “when you’re dead, you’re dead,” also…though it’s not as much fun to think about as the others. I live a good life, so like to think I’m prepared, whatever.

If the last is true, and we are done when we are finished here, we live on, then, only in the memories and dreams of the living. That’s what has brought Grandpa Ted into my thoughts today. It occurred to me that there are few of us left on this earth – and all of us are pretty old – that have any memory of Grandpa Ted. That makes my simple memories seem even more important.

The Day After Christmas Blues

Standard

img_9891

“The Day After Christmas Blues.” That used to really be a thing in my life.

It was worst when I was a child. After all the days and weeks of giddy anticipation, preparation and decorating, magical evenings in the quiet and glow of Christmas tree lights, imagining the bounty that would be found on Christmas morning…suddenly it was over.

Sometimes it struck as early as Christmas afternoon. After the presents were all opened and gathered, after the best new dress was shown off at Mass, after breakfast that included the Christmas Eve ham, now with eggs and toast as accompaniment, things settled, sadly, down. Oh, there were the calls to friends, yet, to compare gifts. There were new dolls or toys to play with, and to find special places for. There were books to read and games to play. There was the long Christmas holiday away from school still to look forward to. Still, there was a hollow space, where Christmas used to be. The anticipation was over; the waiting was done. The reality was never quite what I had expected it to be.

As a young adult, the anticipation went hand in hand with preparation, and the promise, always, to make this one “the best Christmas ever.” The house would reflect the holidays in decorations, music and good cheer. The food, from cookies for Santa to Christmas morning cinnamon rolls, to casserole contributions to the meals that we attended, was plotted and planned far in advance. The gifts would be perfect, and received with gratitude and joy. I remember many frantic Christmas Eve nights, trying to finish just one more handmade gift, to make the under-tree bounty look just a little richer.

And then Christmas was over. Leaving warm memories, sure, and gifts to enjoy, but over nonetheless.  It never quite lived up to my expectations. Maybe gifts weren’t received quite as enthusiastically  as I’d anticipated, or my husband drank too much, or someone was cranky. It was always a letdown to some degree. Mostly, because it was over. It was time for the annual day after Christmas blues. Always with thoughts of how next year, it will be better.

Of course, now I know I should have savored every single moment of those Christmases spent among family and loved ones. Loud, boisterous, crazy, everyone-talking-at-once and “look how much those babies have grown” Christmases are the ones I miss now. I fight off tears for weeks before the holidays, with memories of Christmases past.

  • My mother, coming home with bags and boxes that would be hidden away in her bedroom. Later, after long wrapping sessions, she’d come out with more and more gifts for under the tree.
  • My Dad, recalling his own childhood memories and – like a kid himself – giddily relishing the anticipation and joy of his own children.
  • Christmas morning when the gifts were piled high under the tree, and all nine of us dove in to find the ones with our names on them.
  • Christmas afternoons with games and puzzles.
  • My little family decorating the tree with handmade ornaments, a pot of chicken and stars soup bubbling on the stove.
  • My tiny daughters coming down the stairs to be surprised by what Santa left under the tree.
  • My brother David, in a Santa hat, generous with hugs and always too loud.
  • Sheila putting together the fruit salad, with wide chunks of banana, apples and walnuts in whipped cream.
  • Nita, holding and remarking on every single beautiful baby.
  • Every one of my sisters and brothers present, with their families, chatting and laughing and helping in Mom’s big kitchen.

I should have appreciated every single person and moment more than I did.

Now, alone, with my children grown and most of my family far away, I approach the Christmas season with caution. I don’t want to fall into depression; I don’t want to be miserable. I try to drum up some Christmas spirit. Usually, that happens about 6PM on Christmas Eve. Then, I think, “Oh, I wish I had a tree up…I wish I’d decorated.” I promise myself that next year, I will, so that when I sit down to watch It’s A Wonderful Life on the night before Christmas, I will be able to sit in the glow of lights from the Christmas tree.

This year, I threw myself into a flurry of last minute baking on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. By the time I left for dinner at Aunt Katie’s, my kitchen was destroyed. My car was laden with two pies: lemon meringue and blackberry, a plate of jam tarts, a dish of butternut squash, a spinach souffle, twenty-four butter horn rolls.and a bowl of cinnamon-sugar stars.

I made phone calls on Christmas morning. First to my friend Linda who, in similar circumstances, I knew would not overwhelm me with Christmas cheer while I was still on my first cup of coffee. Then my daughters, each a joy to talk to, and a quick chat with my sister Brenda, who had a houseful of guests just arriving. I took the dogs for a long walk. I opened many thoughtful gifts. I continued putting things in and taking things out of the oven. I soaked in a hot bath. I went to dinner at Aunt Katie’s, where five of us shared good food and cheer.

And now it’s over! I have to say, these days it’s more of a relief. Having used all my milk and cream in baking, I started right off with a shot of Irish Cream in my coffee. I think I may have a piece of blackberry pie for breakfast. No day after Christmas blues for me! At least not until I decide to tackle the kitchen!

img_9878

This Moment…

Standard

img_8491

Yesterday afternoon, I took the dogs down to my Grandpa’s wood lot, so that I could gather blackberries. It’s the end of the season, and the bushes are pretty bare. Many of the berries are hard, dry and seedy, or show signs of having been nibbled on. I walked a mile to gather a meager half cup of fruit where a month ago I could have filled my bucket standing in one place. That’s okay; I don’t mind working for the last fresh berries of the year.

A month ago, yesterday’s weather would have been frowned on, too. It was damp and cool; the sun didn’t show itself until mid-afternoon, and even then it was hazy. Not good, compared to the beautiful warm days of summer. Compared to the weather that’s coming in the next few months, it was a treasure of a day.

I am making an effort to be more appreciative.

It’s easy to get caught up in the past. Not only this summer, now gone, but other summers and other years. The older I get, the more “past” there is to dwell on. I tend to be sentimental, leaning toward maudlin.  Memories and cherished moments of when I was young…or of when my daughters were babies…or when my grandchildren were babies…can fill whole days, if I let them. A simple act of pulling out an old address book or decorating for an upcoming holiday can send me into a tailspin of reminiscences. Sadly, loved ones that have died seem to occupy my thoughts more now than when they were alive. We engage in frequent conversations, in my mind.

The future is always looming, too, in my mind and on my schedule. I run through what I have to do in the next few minutes and in the next hour. I have lists of what I want to accomplish in this day, this week, this month…this life. There are places to go and books to read, subjects to write about, things to make and things to do. The plans are never-ending. If I get a week’s vacation…when I get caught up on this project…if I win a million dollars…one thing always leads to another.

I could be out on a sunny day for a nice walk with my big dog, beauty all around me, and my thoughts will be on what I need to do as soon as I get home…or on something that happened twenty-five years ago. I’m working on it. I have started a [tiny] meditation practice. I give myself five minutes, first thing in the morning. No plans, no memories, just be present. When a thought arises, I just send it on its way. It’s amazing how long five minutes can be! If I could live more in the moment, would all time seem to expand in that way?

I don’t know. I know that yesterday, in the chill fall air, gathering blackberries in the woods while the dogs rolled in the grass, that present moment was all that I wanted.

Breathe

Standard

august2015 038

“Having a great time. Wish I was here.”

I saw that while browsing Amazon.com the other day, and immediately ordered the book. If I get no more benefit from it than this quote, it will be worth the purchase price.

August 11th marked the four-year anniversary of my mother’s death. I miss her for a million reasons, not the least of which are the lessons she taught, by her example, at her life’s end. She had few regrets (the only one she mentioned was a lack of patience with her children) and no dreams left unfulfilled. She was not afraid, and reassured us over and over that she was prepared, and content.

This year, a dear man, beloved by many, died on that same date. Jim was a teacher for many years here on Beaver Island, respected and appreciated for his ability to inject interest and humor into high school lessons while maintaining order in the classroom. He was a former marine, a volunteer firefighter, an emergency responder, a husband, father and grandfather, a good friend, a kind and helpful human being. There has been an outpouring of grief here, a sharing of memories, and a unanimous sentiment of “gone too soon.”

When Mom died, I did a little arithmetic. She was twenty years and one month older than me. If I lived as long as she did (she probably took much better care of herself than I have!), I would have about 7,300 days left. What an eye opener! I promised myself I would make the best of it. I would work toward the goal of having a satisfactory life, with no big regrets. Mainly, I wanted to be aware. The years up to that point had flown by, leaving me with a small collection of memories and the feeling that I’d wasted a lot of time. That needed to change.

I started this writing practice with the goal of paying attention.

I wanted to notice the moments of the days as they flew by. I wanted to note the quality of light, and the feel of sunshine or raindrops. I wanted to really hear what is being said, and feel what is being felt. It was a lofty ambition but, as with many things in my life, easy to forget, lose interest, or let it fall by the wayside. Where have all the moments of all the days of the last four years gone? Too often, it seems, I am doing one thing while thinking ahead of the next thing I need to do, so that I am never fully experiencing the moment I am in.

It’s a small thing, to appreciate this life, but it’s the very best thing to do…for myself, and for the ones who are no longer here to experience it.

I need to continue to work on that…forever.

The Book List

Standard

shelves 002

Today is my day off…kind of.

I have to clean, blanch, package and freeze a dozen quarts of green beans.

I have to bake a few dozen cookies.

There are phone calls and Emails to respond to.

This afternoon I will go make beds and clean floors at the farmhouse.

This evening I have a dinner engagement with family and friends.

May as well start the day quiet and slow, I think.

Over morning coffee and trips to the door to let the dogs out and in, I typed up my list of 62 Life-Altering Books. If you’re interested, you can find it under the “Books” tab.

“Life-altering” seems like a pretty strong term for some of the titles, but it is true in every case.  Often it was a matter of a particular book falling into my hands at just the right time. Perhaps  my my eyes were opened, my thoughts were altered or my ideas clarified. Maybe I learned something entirely new.  Sometimes it was the beginning of a long, on-going relationship with books in general, or with a particular author or field of study. The cookbooks I mention here are only a sampling of the ones I own and enjoy. The same for gardening and lifestyle books. I have gone on to read every single book by Mark Twain, Alice Walker, Louise Erdrich, Maxine Hong Kingston and Barbara Kingsolver, so the entries that made the list are only my favorite or most memorable.

I can already think of several books that should have made the list but didn’t.

Ah, well.

Putting it together brought back lots of memories.

Memories often lead to stories, don’t they? Here is one:

When I was a young mother living out in the country in a tiny cottage near a lake, my husband brought home The Exorcist. It was a brand new title, on several best-seller lists and getting a lot of press coverage. “Don’t read it…” I warned him, “too scary!” He laughed. Not having been raised in the Catholic faith, as I had been, it didn’t seem as real, as possible or as terrifying to him. He read it. “I will never read it,” I assured him.

When I married my husband Terry, he was in a band. It was pretty common back in the seventies for a few guys to get together and form a group, especially if one or more members could play an instrument. Terry and his cousin, Steve, both played guitar and sang. That was plenty reason enough to start up a band. It consisted of Terry, Steve and whoever else was around and interested. They got together once or twice a week to practice and to drink.

They never got any actual “gigs” so the “band” element kind of faded to the background. By the time my first daughter was born and we’d moved to the lake cottage, it was basically just a routine of Terry taking his guitar and going out drinking with the guys. Terry would leave right after supper – or sometimes even directly from work – and not get home until the bars closed. Shit-faced drunk.

Leaving me at home alone with an infant, no telephone, no car and no adult companionship. At least once a week.

It always resulted in a big argument which usually lasted over several days. It always ended with him swearing that he was finished with the band, done with going out with the guys, and that he’d quit drinking.

That lasted until the weekend.

The next argument was accelerated by the fact that he’d not only gone out drinking, but had broken his promise to me.

It amazes me to look back and know that this pattern of behaviors – on both of our parts – went on for years.

Anyway, one night after dinner, when we were young parents living in the country, Terry started telling me that Steve had a friend who played drums, and they wanted to just get together and see what they could do, music-wise, and he wouldn’t be late and he didn’t even think there would be beer there…and I said, “Sure, right, I’ve heard it all before,” and then the threat, “I swear, if you go, I’m going to read The Exorcist!”

“Don’t you dare…you can’t handle it!”

“Try me!”

He left.

I put the baby to bed, and read The Exorcist, cover to cover.

When Terry came home, sometime after 2AM, I was laying under the covers with my eyes wide open, with every single light in the house on, absolutely terrified.

Which he thought was completely hilarious, and which took the starch out of our usual battle.

He didn’t let it go, though. He continued teasing me, knowing how the story haunted me.

I plotted my revenge.

One particularly scary part had been the appearance of stigmata, as a sign from the devil.

One day, when Terry was relaxing after his shower in a pair of bib overhauls (it was the seventies, after all), I looked, alarmed, at his chest where there were a series of grommets and buttonholes on the front placket.

“What??”

“That wasn’t there before,” I said, pointing to one of the buttonholes.

“Oh, it was, too.” he said, “how else would it get there?”

“I don’t know…but remember that story…?”

He got a nervous look, but we let it go.

The next week, after laundry day, there was a new eyelet on the front placket.

I stared at it until he noticed, then just shook my head and walked away.

Two weeks later, there was a new buttonhole (that I stitched by hand, one night when he was out “with the band”)on the front.

When he put the bibs on, my eyes got wide. “Terry, that is new, I know it! What the hell?!”

When he looked, his eyes took on a look of terror. What followed is what his daughters and I have come to call a “Terry fit” with cursing and pounding walls and raging. He tore off the bib overhauls. I think he was prepared to burn them, until he caught the look on my face.

“Gotcha!”

He never teased me about The Exorcist again!

Happy Birthday, Jennifer!

Standard

Image

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!

and a Merry, Merry Christmas…

Standard

Image

I’m up early, early this Christmas morning.

I’ve baked  egg and spinach pie and have dough rising for dinner rolls, and it’s not yet 6AM.

As a child, Christmas Eve seemed unbearable to wait through, sleep was almost impossible, listening for sleigh bells and magic, and Christmas morning started early.

When my own children were small, it was the same. The anticipation of what Santa left under the tree always woke my daughters early. Never wanting to miss a moment of their excitement was what roused me, no matter how late the wrapping and arranging and last minute preparations had gone.

I grew up in a large family and – due to simply the number of children receiving gifts – the tree on Christmas morning was awesome to behold.

Later, celebrating Christmas morning with my small family, I’d have to talk myself down from near panic at the idea of “not enough”. It was impressed in my subconscious that a Christmas morning tree should be almost buried in packages…that presents should spill out from under the tree and take up significant space in the room. Many times Christmas Eve night was spent with me madly sewing or crocheting last minute gifts, just to make a more impressive show.

This year, with no reason in the world to be up before the sun, it was pleasant thoughts and memories that woke me.

It’s easy, over the holidays, to get in a funk over what has changed.

Being big on melancholy, I usually indulge.

There are the sweet childhood memories, and all of that innocent time long behind me.

There are precious memories with my own daughters, now grown and far away.

Grandchildren that I won’t see, this year on Christmas.

Friends and acquaintances that I’ve lost contact with over the years.

There are people, so close to my heart, no longer here.

It’s sometimes too easy to dwell on loss. Not today.

But the memories are precious; I don’t push them away.

They are a part of my own history, and good company this Christmas morning.

Back in Time

Standard

Image

My youngest sister, Amy, and her husband, Dennis, raised four beautiful daughters in their blended family.

Two of those girls are getting married this Fall.

I traveled last weekend back to my hometown for the first of these weddings.

Lapeer, Michigan.

Immaculate Conception Church.

It’s October. Of course there were ghosts.

Ghosts, in the form of memories and feelings and deja vu moments.

Immaculate Conception Church sits on the main street downtown, just a couple blocks from the business district, and next to Bishop Kelley Catholic School, where I attended first through eighth grade. Every school day started at the church, for morning Mass.

The church has changed over the years.

I’m old enough to remember when the Mass was said in Latin. I can still recite some of the prayers, and I still think “et cum spiri tu tuo” has a nicer ring to it than the modern, “and with your spirit”. The altar faced the back wall, then, and most of the Mass was said with the priest facing the altar, away from the congregation. A long communion rail divided the altar from the rest of the church. I made my First Communion kneeling on the velvet covered bench at that rail.

Though marbles were strictly forbidden at school, we brought them anyway. For secret games of “Odd, Even or Nothing” or for trading on the way to school, or elaborate games with the public school kids while we waited for the bus. Once, during the quietest, most solemn part of the Mass, the clasp on my clutch purse gave way, allowing one hundred and twenty marbles to spill out, bounce onto the bench and floor, and roll out in every direction. Every student turned to look. The peaceful expression of a nun at prayer changed to the scowl of a predatory bird. Even the priest turned to see what the noise was. Still, it may not have been completely clear that I was the cause of the ruckus…except for my best friend collapsing in giggles beside me, as I turned fifty shades of red.

Once, when Mom was indisposed, having just had a new baby, Dad brought us to church. We were a bit late in arriving, so stood in the side aisle. My sister, Brenda, and I – oblivious to our surroundings – were deep in whispered conversation when Dad poked us. Startled, we looked back at him. He was agitated, whispering angrily, gesturing wildly toward the front of the church. “Oh!” we thought – in unison – “Did we miss something? Were we supposed to go to the front?” And we proceeded to walk up the aisle to the front of the church…where we realized our mistake. The ride home that day was filled with my father’s loud voice accompanied by exasperated head shakes about how we talked as if nothing was going on and didn’t pay attention or help with the little kids and when he told us to look to the front, we walked to the front…

When President Kennedy was shot, we all left our classes and walked to the church to pray. It was there that we learned he had died.

Death was not a stranger to us. When a person died without family or friends to pray for them, the kids from Bishop Kelley School were gathered in the church – like paid mourners – to attend the funeral and pray for the deceased.

Our family has had its share of funerals there. I was twelve, I think, when my baby sister, Darla, died. I kept my eyes on my mother, one pew ahead. Though her back was bent, her head bowed and her shoulders quaked with her sobs, Mom was the best anchor I had in this strange new world of grief.

We’ve had a few weddings at Immaculate Conception.

My Dad walked me down the aisle there, dressed in his suit and tie, with a flask in his pocket as security against his nervousness. He pulled it out, on the church steps after the ceremony, to offer the priest a swig.

Of all my sisters married in that church, Sheila’s wedding was the most memorable. She wore the dress and veil I’d been married in. Dad walked her up the aisle. When Sheila let go of his arm to walk, with her future husband, up onto the high altar, Dad’s foot was on the end of the fabric train behind her. The entire church gasped. Sheila stepped up. The six hook and eyes that secured the train to the waistline at the back of the dress gave way. The train dropped to the floor. My father – I will never forget the look of near panic on his face – picked up the fabric, hung it over the pew in front of my mother…and went to sit on the groom’s side of the church. This was only one in a whole unbelievable string of unfortunate events that made Sheila’s wedding a legend in our family. We were still reminiscing – and giggling – about it last weekend!

My friend, Linda, was married there. I – eight months pregnant and dominating every picture with my large belly – stood up with her.

My daughter, Jennifer, was baptized there, with my parents acting as her godparents.

The church has had several remodels. The confessionals – there used to be two – are reduced to one, with a real door instead of the velvet curtain from my childhood. Cameras, facing the altar, perch on top of the small room. The stations of the cross have been given a bright new paint job; the pillars have the look of marble; gold and aqua patterns adorn the ceiling over the altar.

The stained glass windows remain the same. On the left, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove; on the right, the Lamb of God, both surrounded by sun rays and bordered with gray clouds. Leaf shapes and fleur-de-lis patterns in shades of gold and red and green fill the smaller surrounding panels. So many memories bask in the filtered light from those windows!

Last weekend, we added a few more.

Sheila

Standard

Image

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.