the art of being my mother

Centered on the living room wall when I was growing up was a drawing that tore at me. It was of a woman, clearly weary, her head in one hand looking off to her left, a sleeping child draped over the other arm.

Not sure what was going  on here, but it was clearly important.
Not sure what was going on here, but it was clearly important.

While I now see the beauty in this art, as a child I believed my mother identified with it because of her own weariness with her lot in life, namely, me, and I felt a great deal of guilt over what I’d done to her.

We didn’t get along, my mother and me, until after my stepfather died when I was 28. By her own admission, her focus then changed from wife to mother.  It took us years to work through all the barriers. Issues remain today, but they aren’t the structure of our relationship.

I see her getting older and I’m constantly mindful of the fact she’s only a few years away from the age her parents were when they died. She’s on a fixed income and can barely afford her own needs month to month, yet she still jumps at the chance to give to me.

That’s what moms do, I guess, at least it’s what my mom does. I resisted it inside myself until I realized how important it was to her. I turn around and send her money when I can to help her in any small way.

A few years ago I went through terrible times, and it left its mark on me long after that. I was so deep in the pain of it myself I didn’t fully realize what my mom went through each day, wondering what I was undergoing and imagining the worst.

I need to keep to myself what is mine to know.

I hold back on telling her everything because it is too difficult to express. I don’t know that she should know all the details. I need to keep to myself what is mine to know.

Perhaps she did identify with the woman in that drawing, for reasons I’ll never really know. As one of the few pieces of art she’s kept through the years, it seemingly has meant something to her. Just as I don’t fully involve her in my experience, certainly she hasn’t fully involved me in hers.

I told her once, in a moment of reflection, what it had made me feel, and she simply said, “Really? I never knew.” Then smiled a little. “I always loved that picture.”

Let Your Fear Be Your Guide

At the age of 18, I went canoeing for the first — and last — time.

Don’t get me wrong. It was an extremely successful venture. I was with my church youth group at a river in northern California, known for its great canoeing. It was perfect for beginner and advanced canoeists alike, as the more treacherous areas all had an alternate route (walking).

In particular, there was one rocky streak known as “WipeOut Curve.” No one — I mean no one — made it through WipeOut Curve. I was in a canoe with my friends Debbie and Russ; Debbie was manning the back of the canoe, I had the front, and Russ sat in the middle, sans paddles. Both Debbie and I were novices, and we were advised to walk the path that bordered WipeOut Curve.

We weren’t particularly adventuresome gals, and knew our limits. We’d been doing well, handling the worrisome areas like experts, guided by Russ’s experience and our own common sense. It felt good, but the odds remained against us. For some reason I have long forgotten (quite possibly we were too self-conscious to walk in front of all the picnickers in our bathing suits), we decided to go for it. We headed straight for WipeOut Curve.

We made it.

The crowd of a two dozen or so people were incredulous and cheered us through the treacherous waters. We were focused on the river, so only Russ waved back, but we were thrilled. We had conquered WipeOut Curve. The two of us, who had never canoed before, had done what the most experienced canoeists hadn’t been able to do.

Group of Canoeists on a River Through a ForestWe successfully completed the rest of the route and enjoyed the admiration of the others in our group, particularly the boys, for the rest of the day. It was a high point of my teenage years.

I haven’t been back in a canoe since. The opportunity hasn’t presented itself, and I haven’t sought it out. But that victory has stayed with me.

The truth is, both Debbie and I were scared of wiping out, and that kept us upright as much as any skill we may have had. I don’t remember if it was the embarrassment of looking like drowned rats or the fear of hurting ourselves, and being teenage girls, the former is just as likely as the latter. If I’d had a choice, I may never have stepped in a canoe to begin with.

Except I did have a choice, and I chose to take the risk.

How many times do we succeed because the fear of failure is so strong? Is the victory any less sweet?

Taking a risk doesn’t always pay off. That day, the worst that could have happened is we failed to do what everyone else failed to do, so the risk was nominal. However, something about it motivated us to try the seemingly impossible.

The motivation doesn’t minimize the success. Let your fear take you places you didn’t expect to go. Yes, pay heed to the warning signs, weigh the risks, but be willing to take the curve.

Success is just around the corner.


Photo Credits: (River) © Jason W. Rambo; (River with canoeists) © Steve Boyko. Both stock.adobe.com.

New Magic

A million thoughts — a thousand regrets — a dozen things I’d change today to bring back the magic. Do you ever think of me?

I dreamed of you the other night, and you were kind to me. I suppose I’m healing.

And moving on. I’m dreaming about someone else these days, but scared to let him know, to open the door to heartache.

A dozen ways to bring back the magic. Maybe not with you, no, I know, never with you.

New magic.


Image Credit: (Girl) Sophie Anderson (public domain); (Background, Light Rays and Light Dust) © Roman Dekan — Fotolia

The Letter (sigh)

Heart drawn on rainy-streaked window

When I was 36, I moved from Minneapolis to Nashville for a relationship. I distinguish “moving for a relationship” from “moving for a man.”

It was a decision I made because it was what I wanted to do, and not because I was one of those women who would sacrifice anything for the man in her life. I’d made big moves before, so I knew what I was getting into. In fact, I was looking forward to the change and opportunities.

But overall I wasn’t content in Nashville. I broke up with that boyfriend a year after my move, and made only one true friend in the three years I was there.

Still, something special did happen, a seemingly small event, but one that lifted my spirits for years. I wish I could go back in time for this simple reason: to save that letter.

It was January,

Sad love heart symbol background

a few months before Mark and I split up, and I knew our relationship was coming to an end. Still, I wasn’t going to go out with anybody else until it was officially over, no matter how appealing he might be.

No matter how appealing he might be.

The apartments I lived in at the time were nice, but they didn’t have a washer & dryer hookup in the units. Instead, there were a handful of washers and dryers in the mail room. To avoid the crowd, I did my laundry early Saturday mornings. I didn’t dress up by any means — sweats, no makeup, my hair looking like a bird’s nest. I think I even wore slippers. I did take a shower and brush my teeth (my concession to public sensibilities), and likely wore my contacts out of habit. But it was not a moment to capture in either mind or photo.

A man started showing up at the same time, somewhat older than me, and very kind. We’d talk, but I’m not a morning person, and generally I was there to throw my laundry in and haul back to my apartment. I barely noticed him.

Then one day I got a letter,

in an ordinary office envelope, written on plain yellow ruled paper. The return address was the apartment in the building next to mine. I was curious, and a little nervous. Who on earth?

adobestock_125247617-convertedIt was the gentleman who’d been doing his laundry at the same time I was. Turns out it was no coincidence he showed up every Saturday morning for weeks on end. Despite my scarecrow appearance and nominal conversation, he wanted to get to know me.

It was the warmest, most heartfelt letter I’ve ever gotten, ending with an invitation to dinner.  It made me feel treasured. I kept that letter for years, and today I have no idea what happened to it.

I spoke to him the following Saturday and told him while I truly valued his letter, I wouldn’t be comfortable going out with him since I was still dating Mark. He suggested coffee, but I knew how Mark would feel about even that casual of a meeting (despite the growing distance between us), and I knew how I would feel about it, too. I told this gracious man if I ever broke up with my boyfriend, I’d look him up.

By the time Mark and I did split, the man had moved away.

I don’t regret not going out with him. I believe in honoring the relationship you’re in, even if it’s rocky. Tempting yourself isn’t wise.

If I could go back in time, I’d travel to the moment I decided to throw away that letter (if indeed I did, perhaps it was tossed accidentally) and save it instead as the rare gift it was.


Image Credits: (car) © James Group Studios Inc — Adobe Stock; (window) © robsonphoto — Adobe Stock; (letter)  © vladwel — Adobe Stock

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life — Worth the Wait

So I finally know the last two words Amy Sherman-Palladino planned to use in the finale of Gilmore Girls. Don’t worry, no spoilers here. But Gilmore Girls fans, if you were hesitant to watch the sequel for any reason, wait no longer. Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is true to the original, but it’s not the same. The characters have grown, yet Stars Hollow is as quirky as ever. You can go home again.

emily-richard
Kelly Bishop and Edward Hermann in the original series

Virtually all of the key characters from the show’s original seven-year run show up in at least one of the four episodes airing now on Netflix, save, of course, Richard Gilmore, as Edward Hermann died December 31, 2014. His passing is honored, and so is Richard’s.

Look for the same Emily, yet a definitively changed one. Kelly Bishop is a fantastically talented actress who always kept Emily from being unsympathetic. On occasion she broke out a wickedly fun side, and she does so again in these latest episodes.

Both Lorelai and Rory have hit a crossroads, one common to women in their late 40s and mid 30s, respectively. How they work through their struggles is so true to the series as created by Amy Sherman-Palladino that you know she and her husband Daniel Palladino had to be steering the whole production, and thankfully, they were doing just that.

gilmore-girls-winter
Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledsel

Alexis Bledsel has grown as an actress, and while I always enjoyed her in the series, I found her performance to be more mature and natural as the grown-up Rory. Lauren Graham could hardly get any better, and she’s returned to the character of Lorelai with ease and the same sense of fun and wonder.

A character you didn’t see in the original Gilmore Girls is that of Violet, leading lady of the Stars Hollow musical, played by Sutton Foster. For those of you don’t know, this current star of the TVLand series Younger starred in the short-lived show Bunheads, also created by Ms. Sherman-Palladino. She’s well-cast as the hard-edged Violet, who gives a great performance in the world’s worst musical ever.

Years ago, when I was living with my mom, we would watch Gilmore Girls together every week. It was our thing. The only way today’s marathon could have been better for me would have been to have shared it with her, and next time I travel to Minneapolis, we’re settling in for a few hours with Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.

And I’m bringing some kleenex for the final scenes. We Gilmore Girls fans finally got the ending we deserved all along.

All Who Are Weary, Eat

This Thanksgiving I’ll be with four other people who find themselves in much the same position I’m in: living in a city without family nearby to spend the holidays with. I have some cousins, second cousins, actually, living 20 or 30 minutes away, but seeing them would be much like seeing strangers.

I’ve had three invitations from local friends to join their family, and there’s a part of me that would like to have accepted their generosity. But truthfully, there’s a bigger part of me that looks forward to the time after the meal, when I come home and spend the time with my cats, knitting and watching classic movies.

I’ll enjoy my holiday, I have no doubt about it, both the time with friends and the time alone. I know two of the four people who will be sharing a meal with me; I believe I’ve met the other two but have barely spoken to them. Still, the two I do know are fun, and one of them in particular “gets” me. I’m free to be myself, quiet or goofy, whichever side comes out.

Growing up, I don’t really remember much about how we celebrated Thanksgiving. I believe we included friends who, like me today, have no family nearby with whom they can share the traditions and turkey, but I don’t remember any of them in particular.

me-mom-and-beth-thanksgiving-c-1997
Me, my mom and sister at Thanksgiving nearly 20 years ago, when I was living in Nashville, with no family nearby — they both flew out to see me. I still have that sweater…

I do remember, in my twenties, my mom and stepdad included a Russian couple and their grown daughter, and, for that matter, her fiancé (both were medical students, as I recall). Lisa, Misha and Olga were Russian Jews who had faced persecution under the Soviet Union, and they emigrated to the United States sometime while Olga was still fairly young. Misha, who had an advanced degree, was forced to take a job delivering pizza. Lisa was also highly educated, and she learned how to do nails to make a living. She did my mom’s nails; that was how they met.

It was appropriate to have immigrants at our Thanksgiving table. The tale we’re told of the first Thanksgiving is similar, with a group of European immigrants breaking bread with the Native Americans.

So as we celebrate with our family, friends, or by ourselves, let our thoughts include all those who face adversity in seeking a better, safer life. We cannot become complacent in the lives we lead. We must remember the sacrifices others made for us to give us what we have today, and be willing to open our doors to others who seek the same for the generations of their family to come.

God bless us, everyone.

 

Collecting Memories

It all started with my new job.

We were responsible for the marketing for a wine festival, then the fourth largest in the country. I started that job only days before the event and barely knew what was expected of me, let alone what was the protocol at a wine tasting. One of the agency’s account executives taught me about sipping the wine, swirling it around in my mouth and spitting it back. That’s the proper thing to do at a wine tasting. It’s also a little unseemly.

Each of the guests, and the publicity team members were all guests, was given a hand-painted pewter winestopper and a small bottle of Pinot Grigios. What happened to the wine I’ve long forgotten, but that stopper started my bottlestopper collection, and what a collection it is.

bottlestoppers
The first winestopper I ever got is the one in the front row on the far right — the latest is also in the front row, but on the far left.

There are only ten, but each is a work of art. Or not — a few are very commercial. But the rest are made of finest crystal, hand-spun glass or, like the first, pewter. They are beautiful.

The second stopper I added to my collection was another hand-painted pewter piece my mom had received as a gift from a man she briefly dated. It’s the only one that’s been used. After that, I went to craft fairs, specialty shops and most recently, Pier One, to find the latest addition.

There’s the Map of the World, bought with a friend visiting me from overseas. The two made of Murano blown glass, given by different friends in the same year. The leaf I bought with my friend Karen.

The Versaci Medusa Head crystal stopper is the showpiece of my collection. My mom gave it to me years ago, and I treasure it. She also gave me the Arkansas Razorbacks souvenir bottle stopper for the other end of the class spectrum (it has none).

For years I searched for a way to display them, and finally my mom found a bottlestopper display rack, which she gave me a few Christmases ago. Or for my birthday. I forget exactly. It took awhile to find the space to set the whole thing up, but finally, I have it.

It reminds me of better times, of lost and lasting friendships, of challenges that seemed overwhelming yet were inevitably overcome. People who might otherwise be forgotten are brought to mind, and I smile at the memory.

The irony, although it will help preserve these pieces, is I rarely, if ever, drink wine, or any other alcohol, for that matter. But I love the stoppers.

Collections tell stories. They are worth more than their pieces. They are our history.

Treasure from the Past

Growing up, my mom decorated for the holidays. A lot of the ornaments and decorations she made herself, and I still have some today.

Of course Christmas was the real winner, but that didn’t mean Thanksgiving got left out. We had cornucopias, gourds, turkey-shaped salt & pepper shakers, and of course, the pilgrim candles.

thanksgiving-candle
The Little Pilgrim Girl candle…I’m betting some of my readers have, or had, one just like it.

Over the years I claimed the little girl pilgrim as mine. I suppose that would have meant the little boy was my brother’s, and the coordinating turkey candle may have been my sister’s. She probably wouldn’t have liked that, but she made it pretty clear she didn’t care for the pilgrim candles to start with. A born artist, she had far more appreciation for the cornucopia and the gourds, so decorative all on their own.

At some point, I’m guessing when my parents divorced and my mom threw out many of the things that reminded her of her life with my father, the pilgrim candles disappeared. I was crushed. Each year I would hope they’d miraculously pop up, but they never did. I believe Mom held onto the turkey salt & pepper shakers for a good long time, however, as well as some of the serving trays.

Other traditions also continued. Many of you Americans know the same ones: the green bean casserole, celery smeared with cream cheese and topped with paprika, and if we were really lucky, twice-baked potatoes.  And the pies…make mine pecan. Or apple. Or a “small” slice of both, and lots of real whipped cream. When my mom re-married, she and my step-dad took on gourmet cooking (well, she’d always been a skilled cook) and a few new delicacies made it to the table.

My family has the same dysfunctions any family has, and like everyone else, they are showcased at Thanksgiving. My grandfather’s bigotry, the endless questions and speculations about a sibling’s or cousin’s absence, the family gossip, distorted and one-sided as all such talk is likely to be. My tendency was to tolerate it for as long as I could, then retreat to my bedroom until my presence was requested. I can’t say I looked forward to the holiday, but I don’t recall dreading it either.

paco-bear
That’s the late great Paco sitting on the three-drawer dresser I got for helping Mark with his mom’s estate.

I continued to miss my little Pilgrim girl. Why, I’m not certain, but I did. Then one spring, my then boyfriend’s mother died. I helped him sort through all of her things and prepare them for the estate sale. While he and his brother could have kept anything they wanted before the estate sale lady took over, one of the rules of the sale was once something is priced, it is to be sold at that price. No more family members claiming what they believe rightfully belongs to them. And, family couldn’t buy anything before the sale started.

We had plenty of time to peruse her belongings before the estate sale team took control, and thankfully we were careful. We found stock certificates, cash that had been gifts in birthday and Christmas cards, and a few valuables we knew should stay in the family. For my efforts, my boyfriend gave me a three-door dresser I still treasure today.

But neither of us saw the little Pilgrim girl until the day before the sale. Marked at only 25 cents, I told Mark that despite our plans to stay away, I would be at the door promptly when the sale opened and I would make a bee-line for that candle. The estate sale lady relented and allowed me to buy the little trinket that night. I suspect she didn’t want us there the next day. It was generally considered advisable not to be nearby.

Today, even though she doesn’t sit up straight, she is a treasured part of my Thanksgiving celebration. I’m told she’s a bit of a collectible, just a small bit, but I wouldn’t let her go for any price. She helps make Thanksgiving worth celebrating.


Candle

More Stories Than Time to Tell Them

My mom called today, and with shaking voice, clearly in pain and a little pleading, said she’s having hip surgery, and asked if I would be there to help her when she came home.

home free III“Of course,” I said immediately. It didn’t matter the day, the week, the month. Of course I’d be there. My mom will be 80 next year, and I’m not going to miss any opportunity to spend time with her. She lives 700 miles away, and if anything were going to truly prompt me to move, shortening that distance would be it.

My boss & friend, Beverly, is planning for her mother’s 90th birthday party later this month. Ruby, her mama, is a wonderful woman, funny, engaging, and almost always cheerful. She’s also lost much of her memory. While she’s been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s, no one’s quite certain if that diagnosis is entirely accurate. Certainly there’s dementia, but so many of the other telling signs of Alzheimer’s aren’t evident. Yet.

Ruby’s excited about her upcoming party. Her oldest son has flown in from Thailand, and until he arrived, she was telling everyone he’d be taking her to Hawaii for two weeks. Now she’s saying Beverly will be the one traveling with her.  Sometimes we hear about a boyfriend, Ray, and his private plane. Truth is, there’s no trip to Hawaii planned (and as far as we know, no Ray). It’s quite possible later this winter we’ll hear tales of her imagined vacation, and her memories of the birthday party may be of conversations and such that never take place. As long as she’s happy, no one cares.

dancersSome of her memories are very real, and she surprises those who love her with the chance telling of them. One friend over & over hears the story of Ruby’s engagement to her first husband, Beverly’s father.

It was the day Pearl Harbor was attacked, and Ruby and her friends were at a picnic (it was the South, so yes, a picnic in December). The food was wonderful, the sky was bright and everyone was dancing when they heard the news of what would be the start of U.S. involvement in WWII. Coy, the man Ruby was dating, told her they’d marry before he left for war so she’d always be taken care of in case something happened to him.

Beverly had never heard this story. She knew her parents had gotten married before he went off to war, but the details about Pearl Harbor and the picnic were new.

She doesn’t want to lose her mother and all the untold stories that will go with her.

The last time I visited my mom, we sorted through some pictures. When we came upon a photo of a particularly beautiful young woman, Mom told me about her best friend, Lee, who was killed in a plane crash when she was only 26.  I knew a little about Lee, but not all I heard that day.

It’s not just the stories, of course. It’s the moms who go with them we don’t want to lose, the sense of endless time to hear what they have to say.

So I’ll be there when my mom has surgery, and every other moment I can make it.

Image Credits: Top: (bird) © Vera Kuttelvaserova; (leaves) © imagincy; (wood table) © MaskaRad; Bottom: (outline of couple dancing) © inga; (starry sky) © yulias07; All, Fotolia.com

A Little Less Class, A Little More Kitsch

While my hand is healing, I’m re-publishing some favorite posts you may not have seen before. Here’s a piece from June, 2015:

If we’re lucky our homes will never look precisely decorated, because along the way we’ll accumulate campy pieces of kitsch,  treasured objects that speak to our hearts, and we’ll have to display them.

Ah, FranciscoFor me, it was an ashtray given as a joke by some family member, probably my mom or brother. It had a black plastic base with a hand-painted metal flamenco dancer screwed into the middle. Joke was on them. I loved it.

I don’t smoke, and guests in my home aren’t allowed to either, so instead I loaded it with red cinnamon candy and proudly set it on my coffee table.

No one, but no one, saw the beauty in Francisco the Fleet-Footed Flamenco Dancer that I did. It was frequently suggested I replace him with something a bit, shall we say, classier. I really didn’t see how Francisco fell short. (Okay, I did, but love is kind.)

Then I got a roommate. She was appalled, and went as far as trying to enlist my mother’s help to “get rid of that thing.” Mom warned her it was useless. Thus began a minor battle between my roommate and me.

“People will think it’s okay to smoke,” she’d say.

“That’s why there’s candy in there.” I’d reply.

“The colors aren’t right in this room,” she’d try later, standing in the living room as I walked down the hall.

“It’s so small, it’s an accent piece, it doesn’t matter,” I called back.

I never feared for Francisco’s safety, however, until I came home one day while she was on a business trip. He lay on his side on the coffee table, completely twisted off the base.

“Ooooh NOOOOO!” I cried. She forever denied it, but all the evidence said that woman had hired a damn assassin to do her dirty work while she was away.

I immediately called my friend Bud and asked if he could solder the pieces together. Within hours, Francisco sat upright in his proper place again. But I was resigned to the fact he needed a new home, somewhere safer in the apartment.

My kitschy little ashtray went into a box and stayed there for I don’t know how many years. He resurfaced every time I moved, but never made it onto the coffee table again. Eventually he disappeared.

I miss Francisco. Everything in my living room now is so…classy. It could use a little lesser art.

Image credit: (shadow image) © adrenalinapura – DollarPhotoClub.com

In Memoriam: Patty Duke

Where Cathy adores a minuet,
The Ballet Russes, and crepe suzette,
Our Patty loves to rock and roll,
A hot dog makes her lose control –
What a wild duet!

Patty Duke, aka Anna Pearce, died earlier this week at the age of 69. Many of you know of her early struggles in life, her three failed marriages, and her battles with mental illness. What you may not realize (I certainly didn’t) was she lived the last thirty years happily married, her bipolar disorder under control, and her relationships with her sons, actors Sean and MacKenzie Astin, intact despite their admittedly tumultuous upbringing.

That’s a lot more than a lot of celebrities with even some parallels to her life can claim.

Patty_Duke_in_The_Patty_Duke_Show_-_ABC_Television,_September_18,_1963_(The_French_Teacher)I loved her show as a child. I thought Patty and Cathy were incredibly fun, her parents were wonderful (near-perfect, but of course they were fictional) and her brother, while pesky, was tolerable. And of course there was that goofy, good-natured boyfriend.

A friend of mine in college told me he thought all families, except his, were like Patty and Cathy Lane’s. How many of us believed that same myth? Certainly Patty Duke’s family life wasn’t anything like what she portrayed on TV. Oh well.

In the last 20 years she valiantly worked to lower the stigma associated with bipolar disorder, and I believe she was successful. Thank you, Anna.

My sympathies to her husband, children, grandchildren and many friends as they grieve their loss.

Happy Birthday, Beth!

Tomorrow is my sister’s birthday. She’s a year younger than me, and we’re completely different. We look different, have different interests and in many ways, a different outlook on life.

For reasons of her own, she’s been out of contact with the family for many years now. We miss her. She will always be my sister and I love her.

I don’t know if she reads this blog or even knows it exists. If you do (well, even if you don’t), Happy Birthday Beth!  I hope your day and your year are filled with unexpected blessings.

Love, Belinda

 

 

a little ink on my hands

There’s something so magical about a letter,

especially a handwritten one.

Back in the day, rather, the days before e-mail, texting, or messaging of any sort, I used to send a lot of letters, and get a lot of letters in return. If I’d known how rare they’d become I’d have kept more of them. The ones I have are a chance assortment of cards I liked, notes that got “filed” in an odd place, only to show up years later, or a few, very few, that really meant something to me.

laurie dave
Dave & Laurie’s daughter is a sophomore in college now

Friends used to send pictures, too, of their weddings, babies, families as they grew. Some still do. My friend Melanie sends wonderful cards every year of her, her husband Tim and their children, Alec & Amelie. This despite the fact she posts regularly on Facebook. I’ve kept them all.

In fact, while I may have lost the letters, I’ve kept most of the pictures. It doesn’t matter how many you post, because those are fluid and no one saves them, really. It’s the hard copies that end up in photo albums you’ll treasure for the rest of your life.

Or not. There are some pictures that mean nothing to me now. I’m not even sure who everyone is, let alone what they may doing today, and I’m not particularly interested in finding out. Oh well.

But the letters.

Most of those I have were written right after college, and they’re filled with hope and optimism, fear and anticipation, not the weariness that comes after illness and divorce, the death of a child or the loss of a spouse. Parents are gone now or needing care, jobs can be fleeting.

Of course there are grandchildren and a million other successes, unique to the individual, that we celebrate, but so rarely with letters anymore. I love that I have easy access to my long-time friends through the Internet, but I regret that all of that communication is so easily disposed of when we empty the trash in our e-mail. I don’t even think to save it, let alone the pictures that show up on Facebook or Instagram.

I bemoan the fact that so many schools are no longer teaching cursive writing. It seems foolish to lose that part of our culture, to tell our children it doesn’t matter.

I’ve moved a lot in my life; I’ve lived in at least five different states, and I expect I’ll move again at some point. I’m always fascinated by the places by friends choose to live, and wonder what drew them there. What have their lives become, day to day? Despite the easy access to quick messages today, or perhaps because of the very nature of those messages, they were more likely to tell me that sort of detail in letters.

And while I say more when I type and possibly say it more eloquently, there’s something to be said for a handwritten note or letter. I bemoan the fact that so many schools are no longer teaching cursive writing. It seems foolish to lose that part of our culture, to tell our children it doesn’t matter.

Handwriting works magic

with a special part of your brain. You remember things you write down far better than you remember things you type. Your handwritten thoughts tend to be different then your typewritten ideas.

I write like a left-handed person, but with my right hand, so I always end up with ink on the side of my hand if I write for any length of time. That used to bother me, now it’s a point of pride.

Obviously, I can’t dispute the value of typing. But must we completely give up handwritten letters, or even simple notes with birthday cards?

You used to express who you were in part through the stationary and cards you chose. If you wrote a lot of letters, you got the stationary that had a front sheet, matching sheets (because your letters were too long for one page) and of course, matching lined envelopes.

Perhaps it’s my love of writing that makes me sentimental. If you want to give me the perfect gift for Christmas, a nice pen will do, and maybe…a letter.


 

your smile can light a dark path

Fresh out of high school, I was driving my shiny new Corolla on the freeway when a car passed by with a seemingly friendly honk.

Unsure as to its exact intent, I glanced over at the driver, who saluted me, while his passenger, likely his wife, leaned over and waved. I’d never seen them before, and as far as I know, haven’t met them since.

red car w sunburstThat split-second encounter sustained me for days.  I was struggling with a not-yet diagnosed mental disorder and falling into deep despair on a routine basis. My parents, now in the middle of their divorce and focused on their own lives, were distant and angry when I turned to them for encouragement. I had little in common with my siblings, and we weren’t much of a support system for each other.

So for strangers to reach out to me in that small way, for whatever unknown reason, meant a lot. What made it even more meaningful was the weary look on both faces of this couple, who had two curly-haired children asleep in car seats and luggage piled high in the back of their small out-of-state station wagon. As young as I was, I knew enough to feel for them, and to appreciate a friendly gesture made despite their own obvious fatigue.

I said a quick prayer for those people who would always be strangers to me, and over the years since, when they’ve come to mind, I’ve done the same again.

Happy And Sad Smileys Showing Emotions

I trust their small yet meaningful act of kindness has come back to them at times they needed it most. Who knows what road life has taken them on; mine certainly went nowhere near the path I anticipated.

A gracious word, a flagging but compassionate nod, an unexpected and sincere grin. Never doubt it: little things mean a lot, and your smile can light a dark path.


Image Credits: (outline of car) © GraphicStock.com; (smiling/frowning faces) © Stuart Miles — DollarPhotoClub.com

the man and the boy named Paul

I learned a lesson that shaped my life in what was perhaps a tangential conversation to a day’s English lesson, and gave meaning to a well-intended, yet immensely distressing, event a year before.

I was a freshman in high school, and oh-so-fortunate to have a teacher named Paul Meredith. He taught not only the accelerated English course I was in, but the course for those who struggled so much they didn’t even qualify for the most basic of English classes. The kids on the outside, the ones we didn’t see.

Of course we called him Mr. Meredith, and one day, Mr. Meredith told us, “it’s not what happens in your life that determines who you are, but how you handle those events.” Or words to that effect. A new thought for me that day, but one that’s echoed throughout my life.

There was another Paul who entered my life a year before, in eighth grade. This Paul was one of those we didn’t see in high school, but in junior high, because our school was so small, he was visible.

Paul had been going to a different school up to then, called Mark Twain, for boys with behavioral problems. Much to my shame now, we tended to look down on them. Paul apparently had progressed enough they thought he could handle coming back to our “regular” school.

I guess he had a crush on me. He stood out from the other boys in my class because he always called me by name and was incredibly polite. I bet someone had worked with him on that.

One day I was wearing an elastic-waist skirt, peasant-style with a matching blouse, and another boy yanked it down. While my friends scrambled to pull it back up, Paul hit the boy in my defense, more than once. In fact, I think there was quite a scuffle. As a result, he was sent back to Mark Twain.

I had a hard time with that. I kept trying to explain what had happened, that he was only defending me. My parents & teachers told me his intention wasn’t what got him in trouble. It was how he handled it. Much later, I finally understood

candleI’ve cried more than once remembering him, and what he did on my behalf that cost him. It wasn’t about me, yet, it was. I hope someone told him, “Paul, yeah, you messed up, but hey, she stood up for you. You made the right impression.”

What’s more, for years I’ve wanted to tell Paul that whether or not I showed it, whether or not I even realized it at the time, I deeply appreciated his calling me by name.

No doubt his anger was the consequence of something that wasn’t his fault, and ultimately, it wouldn’t be what happened to him, it would be how he handled it that would determine the man he would become. Anger is tough to change, but he was young, and he was trying.

To both the man and the boy named Paul, I remember you.

Photo Credit: © 9comeback – fotolia.com