Last Year, This Year

Another year begins. I can hardly believe that three hundred sixty-five days have passed. In some ways nothing has changed; in other ways everything has changed. 

Last year I had a sixteen year-old car that I was hoping and praying would make it through one more winter, which it did, and then some. This year, I drive a new car. Oh my, how things have changed. What were expensive upgrades back then are standard features today. It didn’t take long for my sentimental nostalgia over 220,000 miles shared with the old blue lady to pass.

Last year we had already suffered several major snow storms by this time. This year, only the first major storm is pending arrival, and I have been able to get out for walks because the sidewalks have been clear and dry. 

A year ago today, with every good intention, I re-joined the YMCA and started attending Aqua Zumba clsses and even swam laps and beat myself up on the cross-trainer a few times. This year, no renewal. I know better. School takes too much time for making the dues for the Y worth their pennies. Next year there will be no school because I will have graduated. Maybe I’ll join the Y again, but maybe I’ll just walk more.

Last year I was worried about money. This year I’m still worried even though the thin cushion is a little less thin. Last year and this year I know I’m not alone in this. Some things never change. We are never alone in our worry even though worry is one of the most isolating feelings a person can experience. 

Last year JT and KC were half-way through graduate school. This year they are almost done. And soon to be married. Maybe they will be living elsewhere next year at this time, and I don’t just mean out of the house; I mean another state. Or maybe just down the road for a while. I guess we’ll have to see. Next year at this time they will have entered the work force. 

Last year I hadn’t gone for a mammogram. This year I await a six-month’s follow-up to a diagnostic mammogram I had in September, “just to be sure”. Last year I was still denying and dodging my first encounter with a colonoscopy. This year, I’m ever grateful that a pre-cancerous polyp was efficiently and deftly removed by the doctor during the procedure.

Last year the garden was a mess. This year I am perusing the seed catalogs again, hope renewed by fresh cold air and knowing that spring is around the corner. 

This year I’m napping less but wish I could be napping more. Last year I napped more and felt guilty for napping so much. 

I still eat meat, but less of it, and more of it is chicken and fish rather than beef and pork. I still like butter. That won’t change. Last year I had twenty quarts of home-canned tomatoes on the pantry shelf. This year? None. The garden was a mess. I repeat that statement because it’s the first time in thirty-three years that I have felt like a failure as a caretaker of the good rich earth that fills our raised beds. Do we at all understand how important it is to acknowledge where our food comes from and respect the beautiful green and blue earth that feeds us? We don’t manufacture our food. It is grown and raised. 

Last year I was a happy servant to a beautiful female cat who had been my benevolent furry royal highness for nearly fifteen years. This year I realize just how allergic we had all been to our feline friend and realize that my life as a pet owner is probably over. 

Last year on this day the sun rose and set at about the same time, so that didn’t change, but it seems that just about everything in between did. 

Some other things haven’t changed. Light dispels darkness. Kindness trumps selfishness. Love wins every round, every game, every time. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thank you, Laurie Blake

I have decided to relocate.

The man can sit silently in the morning, sipping coffee, waking up slowly, reading the morning paper or watching videos on beekeeping, hydroponic gardening, woodworking, who knows what, until the very instant my pen hits the surface of the paper, at which time he decides it’s time to talk.

To me. Usually on a Saturday or Sunday, the only free mornings of the week.

About politics, pet peeves, the news, anything that will get me riled up, on edge, and off writing.

Perhaps he cannot stand to see my soul bleed out onto the page, blue ink spewing rhythmically with the regular pumping of my heart.  Perhaps he doesn’t realize that what he causes is more than an irritant.  It doesn’t matter.  If I’m going to write, I need space and time.

Don’t get me wrong.  He’s a wonderful man. Honest, productive, caring, creative, generous, hard-working, loving. Plus he takes hold of my pillow after I get up in the morning and hugs it to himself for a while before starting his day.

I don’t want to get up another hour earlier.  Sleep is too important for maintaining health and sanity to pretend it is dispensable.  And by evening, the day’s activities have shattered the crystalline impressions that glaze the first hour or so of wakefulness. By 10:00 PM, the need to sleep has become my master.  The blank page would remain blank if it were not for the early part of the day.  I do not use an alarm clock or clock radio.  I do not like to awaken unnaturally with the first few moments of being awake spent sitting on the edge of the bed, stunned.

So what I have decided to do is relocate.

To another room.

For writing in the morning.

Why finally decide this morning?  Because Laurie Blake died.  Who is Laurie Blake, you might ask.  I didn’t know either until I heard that she had died. While reading one of her obituaries yesterday I learned that she was a beloved high school English teacher, whose favorite class to teach was Creative Writing.  I learned that she had run in twenty-one marathons, including Boston’s. I read that she was only three years older than me, and I assure you, that is much too young to die. She had suffered from brain cancer.

I didn’t know any of these things until after she died, because to me she was the nameless woman with whom I crossed paths hundreds of times. She was the tremendously fit and beautiful woman, with long blonde hair tied back into a pony tail that trailed behind her as she would run from the opposite direction in which I was walking. As I, an oversized woman with graying and shoulder-length free flying hair of similar age would approach her, we would always smile and say hello.  Runners don’t often bother to smile or say hello to walkers.  Laurie did, and she didn’t scorn me for only walking. We made eye contact, and her smile was encouraging and genuine.  Many times after sharing the sidewalk with her for the few split seconds it took for us to share our greeting, I would find that there was a little more spring in my step, and I felt better about walking rather than worse for not running.  For split seconds at a time, we knew each other.  We shared splinters of joy in what we shared, being outside in the fresh air, moving our bodies. Then we would carry on with our own private lives and it didn’t matter that we didn’t know each other.  Dare I hope to think that my smile and greeting was an encouragement to her?

Friday night, while I was out on my walk the grief set in, and I began to mourn the loss of Laurie Blake.  She was much too young to die, but death didn’t care.  It took her anyway. And that is why I am relocating to another room for writing.  Laurie didn’t run marathons by running only short distances and sprints.  She trained, she practiced, she paced herself, and she ran nearly every day.  She relocated to the outdoors.  She took space and time for herself to engage in her passion.

She was too young to die, and so am I, so today I decided to make space and time for myself so I can write. Life will go on without me for a little while, and maybe, just maybe I can leave something behind that will be an encouragement to another person, as fleeting as our encounter might be.

I’ll Make the Popcorn

So I was almost hit by a car tonight while out on my walk.  No worries, though.  It was only TT coming home from a girls’ high school basketball game.  No harm done.  He said he didn’t see me, because he noticed my car in the driveway, realized that I had gotten home from going to hug a friend at the visiting hours for her grandfather’s funeral, and he was thinking that he was glad to see that I was home.

Wouldn’t that have been a mess?  Glad to see me home, and then thunk!  Oops, sorry honey.  Bummer.  I wouldn’t even be able to stand by his side as he faced the vehicular homicide charges, because I’d be dead.  And then his insurance premiums would run sky high, and that would be a drag too.  Not to mention the guilt, and having to tell JT.  Shudder twice.  May neither of us ever even come close to experiencing anything like it again.

That aside, since that little ditty happened a couple of hours ago, just as I was starting out on my walk, literally in front of my own home, it gave me a little something to think about while walking.  Ah, life’s little gifts.

I think it was Norman Vincent Peale who suggested that when we’re feeling overburdened with our business problems or feeling like we have too many responsibilities in life to take a walk through a cemetery and notice all of the grave stones.  From his perspective, it’s a great way to remind ourselves that life goes on.  To me that truth is both comforting and cruel.  I recalled how I accused the sun of having a lot of nerve to rise the morning after my mother died, 23 years ago.  And how dare those people drive by my house on their way to work as if nothing had happened!   But, on the other hand, life did go on without her.

And it occurred to me that if the awful thing had happened tonight, right in front of my own house, there would be people in my own neighborhood of only 16 houses who wouldn’t hear the news, and not even notice something was amiss, ever.

What does that say about us?

Maybe it’s time for us to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” again.  I’ll make the popcorn! Who wants butter?

 

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Walking and Thinking

I do a lot of thinking while on my walks.  I usually walk alone, and although a walking companion is always welcome, it seems that those who pretend interest rarely accept my invitation.  It’s okay.  Walking alone means I can walk at my own pace (usually faster than most) and use the time to sort things out or put random thoughts together into little bundles of thoughts, which sometimes can lead me to a bigger thought, then maybe even a breakthrough on something.

I took a walk on Independence Day and the word that went with me that day was “gratitude”.

I live freely and am allowed to take a day off and take a walk, bake brownies to take to a cook-out, or run to Home Depot on an errand for TT who is using his day off to sand our bedroom floors so we can refinish them, the near end of the most recent “ceiling to floor projects” we have completed over the years.  We are free to make changes to our home because we own our home.  We have property rights, a basic right in a free society.   For this I am very grateful.

Generally I’ll walk about 2-3 miles at a time,  and I keep to two different routes if I am going to walk from my house as opposed to driving someplace for a more scenic adventure, either at a nearby state park or by the ocean.  This time I headed south out of my street, which is the more frequent route, and it takes me though a neighborhood filled with people who are friends and friendly acquaintances.  This same direction will lead me to the Library so, sometimes the walk will be an errand to pick up or return a book.  The Free Lending Library – another gift of a free society for which I am grateful.  Imagine that.  The freedom to borrow books of our own choosing and read them at will.

As I walk past a small blue ranch style house I think of the couple who lives there, owners of an electroplating company who does plating for some of our customers.  Very nice folks, clean honest business people.  His great-aunt was also my babysitter when I was quite young.  Mrs. B. was a friend of my grandmother’s, a widow.  Trustworthy and kind, and I’m sure the occasional passing of cash didn’t hurt her feelings.  I hope my folks paid Mrs. B. enough.  Goodness knows I gave her a run for the money.  She babysat occasionally on Wednesday afternoons so my mother could go to Boston to see her Psychiatrist.  It’s good to have people you can trust in your life when you’re battling depression.  It’s good that we’re free to pursue medical and psychological treatment when we need to do so.  For that I am also grateful.

Quick left and up a short incline and I face the house where my aunt and uncle lived until they moved to Solvang in 1972.  Uncle Roy had to find a better climate because he had developed Emphysema and the New England winters were getting to be too much.  So many happy memories were made in that lovely home.  Grateful for those, most assuredly.   Family Christmas parties mostly.  Sometimes nearly 50 of us would be gathered there for festivities.  I remember the night my dad became a little too, well, enthusiastic, and decided to swing from the chandelier in their front hall.  I was quite young, but I’ll never forget the laughter.  Don’t know what Daddy paid the electrician and the plasterer for the repairs.  My goodness, imagine the freedom to celebrate a holiday with family without fear.  More gratitude.

To my right as I look at Uncle Roy’s house is the home of a couple who were once my Sunday school teachers.  Our last greetings were over his wife’s car, which he had for sale in the driveway.  We needed a new car, and I knew they were meticulous folk, so we did the potential car-buying dance, and we would probably have bought it, but we changed our mind when we checked the service records for that model and year on-line.  What is this?  The freedom to buy and sell our personal property without interference or having to pay a bribe?  And the freedom to access impartial information which enables due diligence?  Again, gratitude.

Diagonally across the street live some friends, she a Ceramics Professor and he, a fine furniture artisan and cabinet maker.  We spent many a Friday evening when our children were young gathered with them along with other friends enjoying TT’s homemade nut brown ale (I refer to it as brown silk) and the variety of snacks we would assemble for the event.  Times change, our children grew, TT stopped making beer, so the soirees stopped happening, but fond memories abound as I walk past their arts and crafts style house, built literally with the owner’s own hands.  TT built their fireplace for them, and in exchange we have the most beautiful curly maple bathroom cabinetry in town.  Every once in a while one of them will be out in the yard, and we’ll have a nice chat.

Next to them are very special friends,  CK and her daughter KK – oops, KK is getting married this summer and doesn’t live there any more, but it’s the home of her childhood, and the hours JT spent there playing with KK, her heart and soul friend, are almost too many to count.  The icing on the cake is that we are family friends so we continue through life together even though our children are now adults.  CK is a chemical engineer, and although I have known her for years and years, I learned just recently that it was she who designed and spearheaded a water treatment facility at a major Attleboro company which, her co-worked insisted, saved the company and helped with our city water supply.  She never mentioned it.  It was just her job, she said, when I brought it up.  Another scoop of gratitude, thank you.

A left hand turn and a few houses down is the home of one of Attleboro’s longest-running Mayors.  Her husband is out in their yard and we share a cheerful greeting.  The Mayor asked me to serve on different committees on a few occasions while she was in office.  I declined.  My reason was a combination of not feeling qualified and the fact that I love my privacy.  I am grateful that she asked me, though, and especially grateful that we have a local and accessible government.

Next to the former Mayor’s house is the three-room school house (no word of a lie) where I went to primary school.  My dentist owns that building now.  Grateful for dental care when I need it, preventive and otherwise.

Another left hand turn and a block down the street, and I am passing the  home of  the 13th Editor of the Old Farmer’s Almanac.  She is also the first female Editor of the Almanac.  I don’t know her very well, but I do know her sister from our daughter’s AAU and high school Basketball days.

Then I pass MB’s house.  MB is a Korean born adopted daughter of a dentist and his wife.  MB is another of JT’s friends, and having since graduated from West Point Academy, she is stationed somewhere to fulfill her end of the bargain, but I don’t know where at the moment.  When JT did her first Danskin triathlon, it was MB who got up at 4:30 in the morning so she could go with us to cheer JT on.  So very grateful that JT has such marvelous friends.

Walking past MB’s house got me to thinking about TV (not television, another young lady’s initials).  TV, another dear soul in JT’s circle of friends, came to America from Vietnam with her family at the age of 13, speaking no English.   She is a college graduate and is currently at Boston University, just completing her first year of Dentistry school, courtesy of the U.S. Army.  God bless America.  TV leads me to think of AS, another of JT’s friends, who came with her family from South Africa at about age 10, and after waiting nearly 12 years her family became US citizens,  and AS just completed a Master’s Degree at Oxford University.

EL, another Attleboro-born young lady and dear friend of JT’s, spent a year at the University of St. Andrews.  JT was there for only a semester because of her major requirements at her home college.  While JT and EL were in Scotland, they traveled all over the UK and made a side trip to Italy during fall break, taking in Rome and Florence.  EL was an Art History major, and JT was just shy of an Art History minor, so they enjoyed seeing so many famous and beautiful works of art live, and with their own eyes.  They would both like to see an improved passenger rail system in the US after experiencing easy and affordable access to trains while there.

We are free to be citizens of the planet.  Free to be citizens of the planet.

Heaps and heaps of gratitude that this freedom has allowed JT to have such wonderful friends and afford them rich life experiences.

Heading home, back on the main street on the corner of which sits my house, I take in the improvements to the street and sidewalks that are in process.  Thanks to the planning and foresight of some of Attleboro’s leaders, this project was shovel ready, so some federal tax dollars came our way to help pay for this badly needed upgrade.  Thank you to my fellow tax payers for helping our struggling post-industrial city put on a new face that we hope will make us more attractive to new businesses, which will then improve our tax base, keep our schools at impressive performance levels, and help us continue to send our graduates to excellent colleges, universities and vocational schools so they can join us as fruitful, employed members of a beautiful and free American society.

As I approach my house, by today’s standards, small, a three-bedroom ranch style house, I take in my flower gardens and yard, the walnut trees that TT and I planted 20 years ago and now shade what used to be a very hot south-facing front lawn, the cedar tree that I remember my father planting when I was a child and in front of which I built many a snowman, I realize that I have lived in this house longer than any other member of my family even though I am the youngest by many years, and I offer a silent word of thanks to my parents for building such a lovely, sturdy, and efficient home, as so many other families did just after World War II, and I say thank you to the muse who suggested I buy it in 1987 after the death of my mother.

And I thought about bravery in terms of gratitude as opposed to anger.  Anger can compel us to do many things that look like brave acts, but I suspect and hope that it is gratefulness which compels us to be truly brave.  Grateful  enough to do what is right and not do what is wrong.  Brave enough to live according to our consciences, both individually and collectively.  Brave enough to look at a truth and own it, and if we don’t fit the truth, then strong enough to change our selves rather than redefine truth to suit our indulgences.

And I know this is a very long blog post, so I thank you for your patience.