Can You FaceTime Me?

 

“Can you face time me and iMessage me to sometimes please?”

In today’s technology filled world such a text may not seem unusual. But, it was coming from my youngest grandchild, who recently turned seven. For her birthday, she received an iPod Touch. I don’t remember what I received for my seventh birthday. I do know it had nothing to do with technology. It was probably a doll. On second thought, Betsy Wetsy was a big hit at the time so maybe there was some very primitive technology involved.

In an era when having a television in the house was a status symbol, when I was seven, I never thought I would be conversing with my grandchildren on a machine that fit in the palm of my hand. Yet, here we are. Time marches on and so does technology.

One of my grandmothers lived on the next street over. I would run through the neighbor’s yard to watch Lawrence Welk with her on many a Saturday evening. Sitting cross-legged at her feet as she snipped pieces of cloth to make a quilt , I would take each segment dropping it in a paper bag at the side of her chair — fond memories.

Five of my grandchildren, including the youngest, live nearly eight hundred miles away. None of them will come skipping through a neighbor’s yard to visit me. They do text me and FaceTime with me. The three oldest, teens and twenties, are on FaceBook with me along with my two daughters. Technology then becomes a lifeline to the future, a bridge for a long distance relationship. I embrace it, revel in it, welcome it. There are snippets of their lives; my life. And pictures galore.

Technology has its downside. Some complain it is a way of disconnecting with others. Some people seem almost addicted to it, unable to put down the phone or stop texting. It can be expensive, but so were TVs and phones when we were kids. And how many had parents who complained about the time we spent talking on the phone or plopped in front of the TV, forcing time limits to be imposed? Oh, and the cars, riding ‘The Circuit’ in Asbury Park on a Friday night instead of doing something constructive with our teenage time.

Everything has an upside and a downside. As always, life is a balancing act. While technology exposes us to the wider world, there is also a time to shut it off. There is a time to let quiet enter and to just be. Technology is a tool, like money, like the coffeemaker or the electric drill or anything else we use to enhance our lives.

Yes, dear grandchild, I will FaceTime and iMessage you, too, sometimes. I love you bunches and bunches and I love hearing from you and I love that technology makes it possible to instantly see you and talk to you. I love receiving messages that say, “I love you so much and can’t stop saying it. You and popa are right in my heart.” And, you are right in mine.

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BFF

Sixty years ago next week my mother pulled me up on her lap and told me it was my fifth birthday. I don’t remember much else about the conversation, excepting she also told me I was going to school the next fall. It was in Miss Nash’s kindergarten class where I met the girl who became my best friend throughout our school years.

Denise was petite with very, very long blonde hair and blue eyes. To me, with my tall, gangly frame and short blonde hair she looked like a beautiful doll. She took dance lessons like ballet and Hawaiian while I loathed any kind of formal physical activity including sports. But, we had a lot in common. In second grade our mothers became the Girl Scout leaders for our troop, Denise’s mother as leader and mine as her assistant. We both attended Wall Methodist Church where we went to Sunday School and later the Methodist Youth Foundation. And, of course, we were in the same schools and often the same classes.

Like many best friends forever during their school years, we lost track of each other after high school. It was mainly my doing. I moved away to a different state. I attended one high school reunion when I was twenty-three. Then, I fell off the radar as marriage, children and career took precedence along with moves to still more states. As I later learned, at subsequent reunions I was listed as ‘missing’. Denise thought I had died!

A couple of years ago, as I began taking writing courses, specifically memoir writing, I began thinking of my school years and my best friend forever along with other classmates. Where were they? What were their lives like? Who did they become?

The internet is a great invention. What was, in the past, near impossible to put together without a lot of phone calls and letter writing, takes only a few clicks on Facebook in the twenty-first century.  I found quite a few people, but not Denise. One of the difficult parts about finding women friends is they get married, change their last name and some, like me, do not hyphenate or use their maiden name. Even after another former classmate gave me Denise’s married name, I still couldn’t locate her.

But, Facebook did not let me down. One evening as I read a post by a former classmate, I scrolled through the comments. There at the end was a familiar last name attached to a remark. It wasn’t Denise, but her brother Mike. I messaged him immediately. And that is how I recently received a message from Denise saying, “It’s denise ur bff someone’s birthday is coming up”.

Sixty years ago sitting on my mother’s lap I hadn’t met Denise yet, the internet was not even anyone’s dream, computers were gargantuan machines taking up large amounts of building space. Yet, despite all the miles and life events in-between, Denise and I still have warm feelings for each other fueled by our memories of common childhood experiences. There are some things that never change, especially best friends forever.

Are You A Caregiver?

To Do List

To Do List

Some of my best ideas for posts come from friends, family and, of course, my readers. A friend, who is in the process of finding nursing home care for her 92 year old mother, suggested I write this post on caregiving. With reader comments about their caregiving responsibilities, it’s a subject I’ve looked at before. Admittedly I avoided it because caregiving is such a broad subject with many layers. Where to begin? I decided to begin with the caregiver, a many layered and varied subject in and of itself with as many scenarios as there are people.

According to caregiving.org in 2015 there were nearly 44 million unpaid caregivers in the United States alone. With 10,000 baby boomers arriving daily at their 65th birthday, that number is expected to rise. Boomers are not only giving care, they are needing care. However, caregiving.org reported 1 in 10 caregivers were over the age of 75. Forty percent of caregivers report the care as being a high burden for them and higher hour (44.5 hours a week) caregivers are stressed. The physical burden, especially at an older age, appears to carry a larger emotional burden as the hours of caregiving amount to that of a full-time job with little or no time for a personal break.

As a wife and mother I’ve been in the role of caregiving in the past, one that comes as a natural part of raising children or caring for a spouse recuperating after an accident. Most of the caregivers are, in fact, women. I can imagine that as we age and find ourselves caring for someone, we may not view ourselves as caregivers. It’s what we have always done for family or sometimes, even friends.

I’ve known many people, like my friend, who are either caregiving directly or are responsible for arranging caregiving. It is a complicated subject. There is no one size fits all. Some people are caregiving for an aging spouse or other relative or friend, while others are continuing the care of handicapped adult children and others still are taking on the upbringing of grandchildren. Some retired not expecting to be in this role.

Earlier in the summer I had the pleasure of having one of my grandchildren visit for two weeks as he accompanied Martin and me on a trip to Michigan to visit our oldest daughter and her family. An active, engaging seven-year-old caring for him takes a lot of energy. There are the usual undertakings like making sure he is eating his vegetables or getting a bath or off to bed at a prescribed time to the unfamiliar activities of assisting with the technical gadgets this generation carries with them as a matter of course. Then there was keeping track of him, keeping him occupied, making sure he is spending his time well. I found myself more tired in the evening. What was a snap when I was thirty takes more effort for the aging me. And, I wasn’t having to be concerned with school, financial responsibilities or healthcare.

This reminds me of a conversation I had a few years ago when I was interviewing the local Alzheimer’s Association as a volunteer for United Way. The woman representing the organization remarked about how stressful the role of caregiving is for the caregiver, impacting their quality of life and even their health as they care for their loved one. Support and a respite, if only for a few hours a week is important. Depending on the extent and duration of the caregiving, it can be stressful, especially as we age.

According to the Center for Disease Control more than half of caregivers said they do not have time to take care of themselves and almost half said they are too tired to do so. It’s easy for me to say because I’m not in that role, at least not yet, but this brings to mind one of my favorite sayings, “Put your own oxygen mask on first. Otherwise, you may not be able to help the other passengers.” If you are in the role of being a caregiver, it is important to take care of yourself so you are able to continue to care for your loved one. Otherwise, what will happen to them if you leave this world first?

That means eating well balanced meals, finding time for some exercise, getting your immunizations, health check-ups and taking any medications you may need. A support group where you can share your story and network for needed services can provide some relief for the stress. Is that easier said than done?

As I mentioned above, caregiving and receiving care is expected to take on more significance as baby boomers age. This generation’s huge numbers is expected to be an opportunity for companies in the healthcare and senior care industries. Most of this generation wants to age in place using in-home services. Realistically, they may not have the financial capacity to go to assisted living facilities.  Aging in place may not be by choice but necessity.

As also mentioned, some of my readers have written comments about caregiving responsibilities. I’d like to hear from any and all of you who are engaged in caregiving be it a spouse, parent, adult child, grandchildren or friend. Caregiving runs the gamut of taking someone grocery shopping, to the doctor or doing some housework to being responsible for attending to all physical and personal needs, finances and even some medical or nursing duties.

For starters:  What are your responsibilities?  How does your caregiving impact your hours for taking care of yourself?  Do you have time for activities you enjoy like a hobby? Do you feel burdened by caregiving responsibilities or is it something you enjoy doing? Why is that? Did you expect to be in this role when you retired or did it catch you by surprise? If you didn’t expect to be a caregiver, how did it change your retirement? Do you consider yourself in good health? Has being a caregiver caused your own health to decline? Do you feel more stressed or is caregiving just one more hat to wear? And whatever else you want to comment about.

Let us know what it’s like on the front lines of caregiving. Tell me your story.  I’ll post your comments and pass your observations on to others in a future post. Your story may help someone else.

If You Want To Live Long, Have Friends

The winding river of friendship

The winding river of friendship

On Thursday this week I met my friend, Paulette at her house. We were going to Asheville for the day. While we made a tour of her gardens so her papillon, Puck, could take a bathroom break before our departure, we chatted about the plants. Garden lovers both, we easily slip into harmony over the subject no matter where we are.

After settling Puck for the day, Paulette winded us through the twisting curves of the Blue Ridge foothills up Route 9 past Lake Lure, through Chimney Rock and Black Mountain to Asheville. We talked about the scenery, the towns, the unusual story of Lake Lure, family, our writing and art, classes we’re taking and anything else that came to mind. It was a beautiful day in one of the most beautiful areas of the country and we enjoyed the lazy drive, seeing few other cars, as well as each other’s company.

Last week I wrote a paragraph or two about the Rochester University Medical Center findings on the health benefits of friendship. Intrigued by the idea that friends can add not only enjoyment to your life but also longevity, I decided to write this week’s post on friendship. While the importance of having friends and strong social ties is recognized as a health benefit, it is the why and how of the causation which apparently needs more research. But, we do know that having friends leads to a longer life.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve met with several friends, some only my friends, some other couples Martin and I both enjoy spending time with. Some are long time friends I’ve known for years. Others are recently or still developing friendships. Unlike family, which comes as part of the package of birth or marriage, friends are chosen by you and by them. But, friendships don’t just happen. They take time and effort. Yes, effort.

Recently, a longtime friend of Martin’s, moved to South Carolina. Still a few hours away, he flew his small plane into a local airfield where we picked him up for a visit at our house. Although we hadn’t seen him in nearly thirty-four years, we talked easily, the years melting away. We lived our lives hundreds of miles and many states apart. But, we’d kept in touch over the years, continuing to nurture the original friendship, making the effort. Happenstance has brought us together again with the effort paying dividends.

As I’ve aged, I’ve found I have fewer friends. It’s less about quantity and more about quality. When I was younger and in school, there were school friends. Then, when I was working, there were work friendships. When my daughters were in school, there were friendships with parents of my kids’ friends. I had a lot of friends. And, I still have friends from those days, the quality friendships that lasted. These friendships were built on other commonalities as well _ a shared sense of humor, similar political, moral, ethical and spiritual views, hobbies or activities and lifestyles.

Aside from someone to spend time with, friends validate us, our lifestyle, beliefs, activities. Most of my friends also write or garden or do some type of art, drawing or painting. Some do all three, which makes for a deeper friendship _ all the more to talk about. And, talking is important. It’s how we get to know each other on a deeper level. It’s how we form an intense connection resulting in friendship.

 
Friends are not just acquaintances. I know a woman who uses the term loosely, referring to everyone she meets as a friend. Chatting at the grocery store with the clerk checking you out does not a friendship make. I was once in a situation where someone with whom I was doing business over the phone called me her friend during many discussions. I had never met this woman. Even when we finally did meet, we finished our business arrangement, and I never saw her again. I was her client, not her friend.

Friends are people you spend time with, a lot of time. Friends are people with whom you have much in common. Friends are people who validate you, support you and make your life enjoyable. Friends are your confidante as well as giving you a feeling of confidence. Friends are not ships passing in the night. They are the ones who pull into the harbor with you and moor there for a long while. There is a bond, perhaps for life, a longer life.

How To Stay Positive With Negative People

Aging, it seems, brings out the negativity in certain people. We all deal with negative people from time to time during our lives. When we leave the workplace, we at least leave any of the negative types from our work life behind. I’ve recommended putting any other negative types out of your retirement life, but that’s easier said than done.

It’s difficult to expel a parent, long time friend, sibling or the person you’re sleeping with. Depending on how someone views the aging experience, negativity can surface even in those who once lived life with a positive attitude. For example, their world view may become one of calamity today as they long for the good old days. Their perception of the past is one seen through the proverbial rose-colored glasses _ time has muted their memory leaving only the good times. Or, and this is the one, which grates on my nerves, they start mouthing statements such as, “You can’t do that anymore. You’re getting old you know. You have to slow down. You’re not as young as you used to be.” I recently had a young sixty-four year old tell me they couldn’t get out and walk every day because they were old! Arrrrrgh!!!

So, what do you do about the nerve grating negativity? Well, first, take responsibility for your positivity. While the negative person may grate on your nerves, the extent to which you allow that to happen is up to you. Counteract their negative effect by taking steps to increase your positivity. Cultivate your optimism.

Years ago I started keeping a gratitude journal after watching an Oprah show. I first listed all the things _ activities, people, places, ideas _ in my life for which I was thankful. They were as simple as a beautiful sunrise or my garden receiving enough rain. I wrote in the journal each night before going to bed. Not only did it help me sleep better as it gave me a feeling of peace, this ritual added to my optimism each day as I made mental notes of items to write in my journal.

As a former news junkie, I can tell you we are bombarded by the media with negative news. Negative sells! So, another step I took was eliminating the newspaper delivery, thus limiting my exposure to the local murder and mayhem. Then, I limited myself to thirty minutes of TV news, if that, a day. Many days I don’t watch it at all. Very rarely do I miss anything that makes a difference in my life. Getting caught up in the world trauma can create fear-based anxiety. While we want to be informed, we don’t want to be inundated. Fill your brain with positive thoughts, readings and encounters with other optimistic people. Try it. You’ll sleep better for it.

Fear is often the basis for the negative person’s pessimism. Fear about world events, fear about aging and declining abilities, fear surrounding financial independence and on and on. Our very impermanence is unsettling to most. However, a Yale University study found that people with a positive view of aging live an average of 7.5 years longer than people with negative views. Don’t get sucked in by fear. It’s important to hold on to your optimism!

We all have negative events in our lives _ all of us. This last year was a tough one for my family. I experienced more than a few moments of negativity. I’m grateful for the friends and family who listened to my ramblings with patience. Here’s where a little compassion on your part comes in, both for the negative people you encounter as well as yourself.

This past autumn I took a class at the Osher Lifelong Learning Center at Furman University on living compassionately. Our instructor, Sandy Brown, taught us the tenets of loving kindness based on Buddhist philosophy. The thought of showing loving kindness toward someone engaging in negativity appealed to me. The appeal is actually seated in my own selfishness. It helped me let go of my negativity toward negative situations and people. I use the following prayer often, saying it mentally, but sending the thought toward the person who would otherwise be driving me nuts! It prevents me from expressing out loud how their negativity is, yes, grating on my nerves, which would only make the situation with them all the more difficult. And, drag me down into their negative spiral. Saying this simple prayer triggers acceptance of ‘it is what it is’. I’m becoming more patient, an attribute which often eludes me. With patience comes serenity. Try sending this thought yourself:

May you be well;
May you be happy;
May you be peaceful;
May you be loved.

Think of actions you can take in your life to increase your positive attitude in the face of negative people. By cultivating your optimism and practicing positivity, you may very well change the negative person’s outlook on life. If you stay mentally up, refusing to be dragged down into the depths of their despair, they will have their moment to vent, get it off their chest and then, maybe, join you in your positive views. If they don’t, well, at least your efforts will ensure you still have your sanity. You can walk away from the engagement with a smile on your face. No, you can’t put all the negative people out of your life, even in retirement. But, you can preserve your aging experience with optimism.

FORTY YEARS DOWN

A couple of weeks ago, Martin and I celebrated our fortieth anniversary. What does one say about such a milestone? I thought hard about this one. All the things we did. All the things we learned. Forty years of better and some worse. Not much sickness yet; mainly good health. As for richer or poorer, we scraped the bottom of the barrel some years and rode the wave of plenty in others. We certainly experienced the ups and downs of life and a committed relationship. Having read lots of ‘what I learned in forty years of marriage’ type posts, I decided against listing all the lessons. Mainly because I didn’t want to bore my readers but, also, because, to me, there is one big lesson. And, the big lesson covers a lot of territory.

We are nowhere near the same people we were in 1975, young, idealistic, starry-eyed about our future and each other. 1975 was, by all accounts, a year when our societal norms were different from even ten years before. Wannabe hippies, we married in a meadow, mowed, of course, on my parents 125 acres in a tiny hamlet in upstate New York. Cow country, I call it. Escaping the normal retirement trends of the day, my parents sold their suburban New Jersey home, bought the acreage with a barn and built a log cabin on a hillside overlooking Columbus, NY. For Martin and me, this setting appealed to our hippie tendencies of matching beads, long hair and a tad bit new age. This is where we chose to be married. Our nuptials were performed by an Episcopalian priest, H. Alan Smith, who, much to our liking, walked around town in a white t-shirt and blue jean overalls, sporting a beard and mustache. John Ludington, who worked with me and moonlighted weekends as a singer, songwriter, guitarist, performed songs like ‘Time In A Bottle’, ‘Annie’s Song’ and ‘The Wedding Song’. Our oldest daughter, three at the time, filled the role of flower girl. What I envisioned as a warm, sunny June day, was, instead, cold, with light rain misting on the meadow. Stuck in traffic getting out of Syracuse, H. Alan was twenty minutes late in arriving. Thinking my minister stood me up at the altar, my tear stained face stayed that way as I cried throughout my own wedding. After a reception of family and close friends, Martin and I went to our apartment. We took the week off from work, bought bicycles with the cash wedding gifts and that was our honeymoon.

Our Wedding Invitation

Our Wedding Invitation

From this rather unconventional start to our marriage, we developed a rather unconventional relationship. No, no, no. Get your mind out of the gutter. We didn’t become swingers or open marriage or anything really out there. It goes something like this. The only one in the family with a stable job on that cold, rainy day was me. Martin worked a temporary full-time job with the county. Did I mention I worked in banking, as a teller? Yes, I worked in a conservative industry. It was not long before I ditched my short skirts, beads and crazy shoes for a more conservative look as I applied for the bank’s management training program. I was the last person without a four year degree to land a slot in the program. Martin eventually shaved off his mustache, got a proper haircut and a permanent job before going on to earn a four year degree. We built our first house, acting as the general contractor, as well as putting up drywall after stuffing in insulation, laying the hardwood floors after putting in the subfloor and doing whatever else we could do with our four hands. Eventually, I got a bachelors myself. I was the main breadwinner for half our marriage and Martin took over for the second half. As a result of all our maneuvering in life, the relationship we developed is more of a mutual support system with both of us pitching in with the kids, cooking, cleaning, laundry, yard work and repairs. As the years went on and on and on, we figured out who carried which strength and let that person run with that particular ball.

Matching Beads

Matching Beads

Recently, in a class at Furman University OLLI, the instructor mentioned how women are more attached to the house and home, while men are drawn to the yard and spaces outside the home. Of course, me, with my chainsaw and all, begged to differ. This idea was further discussed when one of my classmates came for dinner at our house. As Martin cooked a scrumptious shrimp scampi, she and I sat in the kitchen sipping wine after a tour of my garden. We talked about how Martin and I both have specialties around the house, including meals we make. While Martin’s Mr. Fix-It, changing out the kitchen faucet or working on our tractor, he is also likely to paint a pair of side tables for the great room or want to change out drapes in the dining room. As the one who plans, plants and maintains the gardens, I care less about interior decor. Knick knacks bring on hyperventilation as I think about all the dusting. I do most of the clearing of the underbrush on our property, Martin following with the bush hog to grind it down. Like I said, we each have our strengths. Since most people seem curious about how we came to this arrangement, I guess we operate differently from most couples.

After forty years, we just do what we do, naturally, without question, as a team. That didn’t come easy. We grew at different rates, at different paces, at different times. We experienced our share of wrangling. It was years into our marriage before I realized I married a renaissance man and just how fortunate that made me. Forty years of pinnacles and peaks, along with long days and nights in the valleys. Somehow we made it. And, that’s where the real lesson lies. Only one in my book. Not forty. Not a string of I learned this and that. As with everything else in our lives, we learned to accept change. We learned to accept change and growth in each other. We learned we are not the same people we were in 1975 but a matured, developed, personally stretched version of those people. We learned to roll with the punches, taking flexibility and sometimes patience to a new level, at least for us. Difficult at times, we each learned to adapt to the person, our partner, friend, lover, who came out on the other side of individual growth spurts. And, through it all, we stuck by each other with love and commitment and faith that we, us, our union would prevail. And, it did.

In true Merlino tradition, we celebrated our forty years, not with a trip to Italy or any other far off destination. Not with a big party with all the hoopla and family and friends. Not with any of that. Instead, we went an hour up the road to Asheville, NC, wandered through the River Arts District looking at good, great and bad art (my opinion), ate really cheap but really good fish tacos at The White Duck Taco Shop and spent the night in a cushy boutique hotel, where we ate a really expensive but really amazing dinner at The Red Stag Restaurant. There we lifted our glasses and toasted, just the two of us, as we wanted it, to another forty years.

LIFE IS STRANGE

After writing the last blog on technology, which garnered lots of comments (thank you!), a life is strange experience occurred a couple of days ago prompting more thoughts on technology. But, the real story is the part about humans, not machines. Working in the garden, cell phone clipped to my jeans, I receive a text from a friend on the other side of the country. “Kathy, are you free right now? I need a favor.” Since I’m rarely free from activity these days but always willing to drop whatever to help out a friend in need, I text back, “What do you need?” The story is a friend of my friend has passed away. The woman was estranged from her family and children. My friend is trying to locate the children to inform them of their mother’s passing. And, she needs a favor from me? How can I possibly help? My friend thinks she found her friend’s daughter on Facebook. Since my friend does not have a FB account (yes, I have friends who are not totally tied into the world of technology), can I send a message to her friend’s daughter asking the daughter to call my friend so my friend can impart the news of the mother’s passing (whew…are you still with me?…hope I’m writing this well enough to understand). Of course, I say, “Yes.”

Still standing in a sea of coreopsis and sunlight, I use my smart phone to pull up my Facebook account and plug in the daughter’s name. Glancing at her photo, she looks happy, not someone who is estranged from her mother, years and years of estrangement to the point of no one knowing where she is in the world. I try not to dwell too much on the photo. After all, I’m on a mission. But, my imagination and the tragedy of this situation tug at the edges of my mind. I imagine what may have broken their relationship to such extremes. Imagine a daughter, who is coming of age but still immature. Imagine she wants to be free of her mother’s supervision. Imagine a mother, worried her daughter might make mistakes, so she holds tighter and tighter while the daughter struggles harder and harder to be free. Imagine the mother, in desperation, becomes more controlling. Imagine the daughter does make mistakes and the mother can’t resist an “I told you so.” Imagine the daughter runs away, severs the relationship forever. There are probably a hundred more scenarios I can imagine. But, back to my mission. Right now I have to write a simple message. Not much information, one line should do it. I imagine how strange it will be for this daughter to receive my message, a message from a complete stranger in another state, asking her to call another complete stranger in yet another state who is a friend of her mother. I look at the picture again. She looks intelligent. She’ll read between the lines. But, will she care? Will she call? As I stand in my sea of flowers poking one letter at a time on the small screen of my phone, it occurs to me how strange and even wonderful it is that within minutes this daughter is found (hopefully it’s the daughter), my friend and I have communicated across thousands of miles and I am now sending a message to this woman. Life is strangely wonderful and at the same time, often cruel and unjust. There is a certain poignancy to this unfolding story.

Coreopsis At My Feet

Coreopsis At My Feet

After texting “Done” to my friend, I continue working and wondering if the daughter will call. How hard it must be for my friend to deliver such sad news, not knowing how it will be received. Or, if it will be received, waiting to see if the daughter ever calls at all. And, how tragic for this family torn apart for whatever reason to hear the news of a mother’s death, having no way now of making amends, if there is any regret. Within minutes, my friend sends another text announcing the daughter’s call to her. The daughter jumped right on it. She cared. Although I never met my friend’s friend or her daughter, I say a little prayer for these two women. They have unexpectedly touched my life, reminding me of what is important in my little world. I pray for inner peace and self-forgiveness for the daughter. I hope the mother’s spirit is at rest. Surely, there were times when each wanted to reach out to the other, to close the gap of silence, to speak and forgive. And, I say a prayer for my friend, for taking on the role of family and caring. As for me, my heart is heavy yet at the same time, very light. I smile at the sunny day and the sea of coreopsis at my feet. Somehow, I feel like I played a larger role in the universe today. Life is, indeed, strange.

DEFINING MOMENTS

We all have them throughout our lives. Defining moments. Events which teach us life lessons, expose us to something as never before. Moments of joy, happiness, or sorrow and pain. Fifty years ago I was an eleven year old in Mrs. Gipe’s English class when my Dad opened the classroom door and said, “The Principal asked me to tell you the President’s been shot. He died. We’ve called for the buses to take the children home. I’ll let you know when they’re here.” You see, my Dad was the elementary school janitor. In the days before classroom phones and intercoms, he was often given the added job of spreading news from room to room. As I watched his face, I realized how heavy this particular news was for him. I also realized it was perhaps even more heavy a burden because this week marked the fourth anniversary of my brother Leon’s death in a car accident. Sadness already filled our house.

Mrs. Gipe, being an English teacher and loving poetry, took out a book and started reading “O Captain, My Captain” by Walt Whitman. As she read the poem about Abraham Lincoln’s death, her voice faltered now and again, but she never broke down in front of us kids. Other than her voice, the room was so quiet it was hard to believe there were about 30 eleven year olds sitting there. She never had time to finish reading the poem to us as my Dad opened the door a few minutes later to announce the arrival of the school buses.

As we filed out to the sidewalk, I saw my Mom on the corner waiting to cross the kids, who walked home, safely to the other side of the street. You see my Mom was the crossing guard. She always looked very professional and in charge in her police uniform but she always smiled as she greeted the kids. Today, her face looked sad. I knew she had looked that way all week, often standing in front of the piano in our living room just staring at my brother’s photos. And, although Thanksgiving was just a week away, there was a lull over our house hushing down any anticipation of the holiday season to come.

On the bus, Ginnie, a girl in my class broke down and started crying. There were others crying, too. But, I sat in the seat across from Ginnie and we lived near each other and played together and were in Girl Scouts together and had been in the same class since kindergarten. I knew her pretty well. So, it was she who I told it would be O.K. “But, what’s going to happen to us?” she wailed. I heard myself tell her, “Nothing. Everything’s going to be O.K.” I didn’t know if everything was really going to be O.K. But, when my brother was killed, people told me everything was going to be O.K. so I repeated it to Ginnie. Nothing seemed to be the same since his death but I still had a family, my Dad still worked at the school I attended and my Mom now stood on the school corner every morning and afternoon making sure kids crossed the street in safety. Our family still did most of the things we always did. There was just a piece missing. It wasn’t the same, but, it was O.K.

At the time I was too young to realize it, but Kennedy’s assassination intertwined with the experience of my brother’s death was a defining moment for me. As I look back fifty years, I recognize there were many kids on that school bus who had never experienced the death of anyone. They were afraid, confused, saddened. While the thought of the President being murdered was scary to me, I was one of the kids who was able to remain calm and offer comfort to my friends and classmates. I knew life would change but it would also go on. In that moment, a defining moment, I grew up just a little bit more.

THE GRANDS

We call them “The Grands” and we have six of them! Three girls, three boys. A nice even split ages three to twenty. Yes, I’m talking about our grandchildren. I always felt a special tug of love for each of The Grands but didn’t realize how enormously fortunate we were until the birth of our sixth grandchild and third granddaughter. We had driven to Michigan for the high school graduation of our oldest grandson. His mother, my oldest daughter, was nine months pregnant and the newcomer dutifully held off a day before sending her mother into labor the day after graduation.

That day also happened to be my and Martin’s wedding anniversary. The graduate had already disappeared on a one day mystery class trip some very smart parents arrange each year to keep their grads from going out and doing something stupid post-graduation. So, as our daughter went into labor early morning and she and our son-in-law went to the hospital, we gathered up the remaining three, fed them breakfast and headed for the local zoo. The SUV carried a full load as Martin’s parents were also with us. We had fun keeping everyone occupied but as the day wore on, I checked in with our daughter on her progress. Short, easy labors run in my family and she always followed the familial pattern. And, sure enough, late afternoon, I answered my cell to, “Well, bring my kids to meet their new sister!”

We all reached the hospital and swarmed into the room just in time to see the new arrival getting cleaned up as she exercised her lungs. As I thought my heart would burst with joy one of the attending nurses asked me how many grandchildren we had. I proudly announced this was our sixth born on our wedding anniversary. A look I can only describe as envy, sadness and wistfulness passed over her face as she related how she only had one child and he and his wife had decided not to have children. Knowing what a special bond we have with The Grands, I felt a pang of sadness for this woman. Looking around the room, she told me what a beautiful family I had. In that moment, I realized how blessed I was to receive the gift of not just one, but six grandchildren.

Despite the 748 mile distance between us and five of The Grands, we have a close bond with all the kids. Our youngest daughter lives nearby so we see her little boy quite often. He spends time with me in the garden and time with Papa in the garage working on bicycle, motorcycle, tractor and car. Every year around July 4th our oldest daughter visits bringing the entire family together for some summer fun like fireworks and a visit to the beach. For the third year in a row, the two middle children will stay for Grandma and Papa’s Summer Camp where we’ll visit Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, Chimney Rock and DuPont State Parks (Hunger Games was filmed there), go to the local science center, spend a day at the water park tubing down the giant water way, doing crafts like tie dying t-shirts and cooking up some great dinners. We hope this is creating memories of a lifetime and we know it creates the special bond between us and The Grands.

While I don’t think anyone should have children just for the sake of having them or giving Mom and Dad grandkids, I still can’t help but think of the nurse sometimes and hope her son and daughter-in-law change their mind. Because, there’s nothing more special than The Grands.

SICK DAYS

This is not the blog I intended to write for today. But, as it was when I worked, so it is in retirement. The unexpected happened as in I got sick. There is no one to call this morning as in a supervisor telling them I won’t be at work. I don’t have a supervisor anymore unless you want to count Martin. Although, I can assure you, he’d say I supervise him. But that’s another post. I don’t have anyplace I have to be today. I don’t have any customers or co-workers I have to see or call. So, another benefit of being retired is if you find yourself feeling not so well, you can stay in your pajamas (we call them relax clothes in this house) laying around on the couch all day without having to answer to anyone but yourself. However, this is not entirely true. Being it’s Monday and thinking of myself as someone who fulfills their commitments, I do have this post to write. I promise you, though, it’s going to be a short one. You see, my eyes are a red, goopy mess.

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On a visit last Friday to Caesar’s Head State Park in the beautiful Blue Ridge foothills of South Carolina, I ran into a formidable enemy…tree pollen. You can’t hardly see this stuff it’s so tiny but this time of year it can knock me flat despite all the allergy pills, saline sprays and preventions I adhere to. So, after showing our grandson, KJ, the view of Table Rock Mountain and making the short hike down below through the Devil’s Kitchen to view what either looks like, depending on your imagination, Caesar’s Head or a monkey, my eyes began to swell, water and turn red. By late Friday night I looked like a red-eyed alien out of one of the sci-fi movies Martin likes so much. Friday and Saturday nights were spent tossing and turning, surfing the net for home remedies from warm, wet tea bags placed on my eyes to Thera-tears drops. No longer able to wait out a call to my doctor on Monday morning, Sunday afternoon Martin drove me to a walk-in clinic. Lucky as usual, I didn’t have to wait more than two minutes for the nurse practitioner to see me. Fifteen minutes later I was filling a prescription, waiting with great anticipation for the relief it would bring.

So, this morning, though I’m feeling a little better, my eyes are still red and my vision blurred by a sea of watery discharge. Yuck! Oh, and today was my asparagus planting day. My one-year roots were supposed to arrive to normal temps of about 66 for this time of year. Instead, “Brown” brought them up my drive on a 38 degree day. Though it warmed up to low 40’s, these babies need at least 50 degrees before they’re put into mother earth. Doing what any serious gardener would do, I looked at the forecast, decided today would be the day, wrapped them in damp newspaper and sprayed them with water for as long as I dared.

Well, you guessed it. High winds and 50 degrees today. Not willing to expose myself to another tiny bit of pollen, this morning I had to ask my supervisor (o.k. I’m his supervisor) to plant the dad blamed asparagus for me. Each of us armed with cell phones, I stood in the guest bedroom, watching, as I talked Martin through the planting. This proved a little awkward as he had to keep putting his phone down in order to wield the shovel and rake and spread out the roots. Fortunately, he’d prepared the beds for me a couple of weeks ago (o.k, o.k. I really do supervise him). Never wanting to be a farmer, as he often reminds me, he did a superb job and we can now look forward to fresh asparagus next spring. As for today, it’s a sick day, so, I’m headed back to the couch.