You’re In Luck

“You’re in luck,” I said.  And with that, I turned to my second son and smiled.  “I don’t need my car tomorrow, and am glad that you can use it.”

It was a beautiful March evening; and, Timothy and I stood for just a moment in the driveway before he drove off.  As I handed him my keys, he thanked me and added just a little more. I knew the next phrase was coming well before he said it, but I looked forward to him saying it anyway.

“We’re both lucky, mom, aren’t we,” he said.  And I replied with a “Yes, son, we are.”

As he pulled away from my house with what he came to borrow, I began to consider all the times that he and I have uttered those phrases.  I tell him he is in luck and he tells me that we are both lucky – a mantra we have completed a thousand times a thousand.  But this time, I think I meant it a little more.  And I was hoping that he equally heard my words and delivered his with more meaning.

For during the early part of my day, I wasn’t feeling the luck in any way.

Though my daily work doesn’t bring me into direct, one on one contact with students often, this semester, a series of unusual events had caused me to work with three very different people for three very different reasons.  Each of these three students had challenges throughout their lives that I nor my children had ever experienced or imagined:  parents who at best could have been described as absent –  a lack of funding not only for school, but for basic needs like food and shelter - no reliable means of transportation – no steady employment of any kind - non-supportive family and friends – and in general, a day-to-day existence that was more difficult than ever delightful at every turn.

Lately, I had spent a great deal of time wondering about the what-ifs for these three young students.  What if just one thing was different in any one of their lives? Just one thing? What if one of their parents put effort into raising them?  Just one? Just a little? What type of difference would that have made?  What if each one of the students could say that they had never gone hungry – not for one day?  That they never thought about how they were going to secure their next meal? Wow.  What type of difference would that have made?  Or what if they never once had to worry about transportation to and from college, to and from work, to and from anywhere? What type of difference would that have made? If they had just had a little luck, in any direction, for any reason, at any time, what type of difference would it have made for any or all of them?

My work is not to sit behind a desk and wonder all day long.  But, there are days that wondering is the best that I can do.

For although I tried my hardest with each student and they tried their hardest, neither my effort nor their efforts has been able to provide them with enough success to eliminate all of their problems and challenges.  In fact, we hardly made a dent.  The road in front of each of them still seems long and bumpy with admittedly a tiny glimmer of light at the end  - but I wouldn’t call it a streaming beacon at this point.

Through my contact with these three individuals, I swiftly came to realize that all they really need is a little luck.  Somewhere in their frantic worlds, they need to come across a road block and suddenly be handed just a bit of luck and . . . voilà . . . the challenge is averted, the problem is eliminated, the story has a happy ending.  In fact, all anyone really needs is just a little luck.  Trouble is . . . getting to the point that such luck appears is often a journey of a million miles.

That’s why it is so important to recognize and realize when luck occurs. For when it does occur, we have normally waited a long time, planned a great deal, put in time and effort, tinkered around, and worked hard to reach such opportunity.  Benjamin Franklin said it well defining “diligence as the mother of good luck”.  Likewise, Tony Robbins calls luck “the meeting of preparation with opportunity”. Neither diligence nor preparation has a short time frame.  Both take awhile, a long while. Likewise, luck takes awhile, even for the luckiest of folks.  In considering how luck works,  I sincerely hope that the three students I have personally met during spring 2014 are in it for the long haul and are willing to persevere, waiting for their lucky moment.

Connecting all the dots in some fashion, I am grateful for the conversation between my son and me on that beautiful Wednesday evening.   He and I – in less than 100 words – acknowledged that luck had been a part of our lives and that we were and should be thankful for it and for each other.  Such a brief conversation between two people, but an important one - a conversation that gives me plenty to wonder about. A conversation that I am hoping that we will continue to utter and build on for years to come.

 

A flower seen on that Wednesday evening. Lucky me.

A flower seen on that Wednesday evening. Lucky me.

 

 

 

 

The Changing of the Guard

“Mom, you go first,” she said with confidence.

So I did, and as I looked back at her, I knew times were a-changin’.

The weather was beautiful and the snow was perfect. The slopes were glistening and we were skiing together as we had for the past 25+ years. This year’s ski-adventure started out like all those that preceded it. We arrived at the lift-line a few minutes prior to opening. We secured boots, strapped on helmets, slid on gloves, and clicked into our skis. Moments later, we hopped on the first lift and headed up the slopes. Throughout the initial ride, we chatted briefly about our ski-history . . . the times we had been together on this particular lift . . . the weeks we spent as a family skiing . . . all of the traditions of the past. We smiled because here we were doing it again – skiing for a week, and it was only day one.

Over those past 25+ years, I have learned that she prefers skiing in wide open spaces, in light fresh powder, the faster – the better. Steep downhills don’t phase her, nor does skiing over ice in cold, cold weather. In fact, she is an excellent skier – with the skill and ability to maneuver most any terrain.

At the top of the slopes, we plotted out our first runs – something a little easy to start the day. And for the first hour or so, we traveled back through some of our favorite ski-haunts – pushing powder here and there – gliding and sliding – laughing and chatting.

Finally, we decided to move on to bigger and better runs – something a little more challenging. With the snow conditions perfect and the sun shining, we opted to head to up to the top – to the summit – to see the sights and ski with gusto. A smooth six-person lift took us up. Once off the lift, we stood in awe of what we could see. We were slightly above the treeline – and the Rockies stretched out in front of us for miles and miles and miles.

And there we were paused – looking, watching, thinking – with the feeling that we were standing on top of the world. What we could see was so spectacular that skiing itself took a backseat to the scenery surrounding us. During that moment, time just seemed to stand still with the only sound heard best described by Robert Frost as “easy wind and downy flake.”

“Mom, you go first,” she said with confidence.

So I did.

The slope in front of us was actually a little dicey. Most of the snow at the top had blown off so we were starting out on ice. The second section had been well-skied by others, creating a few navigable moguls. Oddly enough, 500 feet from us, the ski patrol was assisting a young man who looked like he had an unfortunate meeting with a nearby tree. The final section would take us through glades and glades of evergreens until the run flattened out near the bottom.

Skiing is an interesting sport. Any great resort will have terrain for everyone – accommodating both beginners and experts and everyone in between. Most runs have an easy way to the bottom and a challenging, more exciting way as well. Skiers judge their own ability and choose their own paths.

Throughout our ski history, we have always skied following a simple rule – an unwritten and an unspoken one – but a simple one. The strongest skier goes last. If those in front of the last skier encounter challenges beyond their abilities, that strongest skier is a tremendous asset – having the skills to not only self-navigate, but to help navigate others when necessary.

In past years, more often than not, I was the last skier. There were many times when I hauled my children out of ski-misadventures – following them down slopes that were well above their abilities, chasing them down paths through snow-covered trees, fetching runaway skis, and pulling them out of piles of snow after a fall. The last skier.

But with those four simple words, I knew that the times were a-changin’.

I glanced back and saw her standing, confident and proud. She was perched just a few feet away from me and used her ski pole to casually point towards a solid direction that we should take. I nodded equally as casually and pushed myself slightly over the icy start.

The only sound I heard at that point was the swish of my own skis. I knew that she was waiting above me – as I had done for her so many times before – patiently and appropriately, making sure that I wasn’t going to encounter any problem or challenge. It was her turn now and my turn to let her have a turn.

Out of the ice, I hit the short section of moguls, and headed for the trees. I stopped for a brief second and heard snow spraying off of her skies when she stopped immediately behind me. Though nothing outwardly had changed – we typically stopped throughout any ski run, just for fun, laughing, resting, smiling – inwardly much had changed.

Everything in life has its own season, and though my initial response was to delight in seeing her move into a different one, it was also about delighting in my movement as well. I now had another person in my life who was following and watching over me, someone to follow me through my misadventures and fetch my runaway skis. It was the changing of the guard in a part of my life, and all I could think about was all the crazy-fun that would lie ahead for me and for her.

We finished the run with little to no fanfare – which is great when skiing – and hopped right back on the same lift to experience it – one more time, again.

The You Go First Moment

The You Go First Moment

(P.S. – I have been absent from my blog for awhile, but am glad to be back!)

Bring On The Goofy

I am quite sure that under the term ‘nice guy’ in the dictionary, you would likely find a photo of my cousin, Michael.

It is easy to describe Michael – because it is all good.  As a young man, he went to a great college, joined a great fraternity, graduated with a solid degree, and secured a great job right out of the chute.  He is typical tall, dark, and handsome – with a penchant for smiling.  Today, he is a wonderful family man with equally wonderful family members.  He is calm and responsible with that caring demeanor the rest of the world envies.  He has a stellar career, is involved heavily in his community, and happens to be a rather good athlete.

He lives a thousand miles away from me.  And over the past 40+ years, I have been fortunate to have spent a week-long summer vacation each year with Michael.  Sometimes the vacation is longer; occasionally it is shorter.  With all that time together, I thought I knew him as well as anyone might.

But I was wrong.

Turns out . . . he is willingly . . . goofy.  Yes . . . goofy.

As an adult, it’s tough to be openly and enthusiastically . . . goofy.  Children can be goofy and all is well. Goofy dancing in the grocery store at age three – great! Goofy attire in junior high – great! Singing goofy songs loudly at high school football games – great! For youngsters, it is all great to be goofy.  In fact, we often encourage the goofiness in our youth as a way of increasing those crazy-funny moments in our lives that lead us to laughter, hilarity, and merriment. I readily admit that my day is brighter when I run across the goofy-side of the world. Goofy is fun.  But goofy isn’t all that common once we exit our childhood and enter that mysterious adulthood.

I am not quite sure what my definition of goofy has been, but rarely if ever, would I have associated that term with my cousin, Michael . . .  until recently.

Michael is a charitable guy.  He works hard at service to others.  And he isn’t one to want the recognition that comes along with his actions.  In fact, he usually likes to be in the background – doing his thing to help in any way possible. It turns out that Michael is the chair of a fund-raising event in his home town.   It is a great cause and a good, solid charity.  It is in need of funds.  It always is in need of funds as there are more folks who need assistance than current funds available.  So, from my vantage point, it looks like Michael has been asked to lead the efforts in his community to reach a fundraising goal.

And, lo and behold, captured via camera, the world was introduced to his goofy side.  With photos forever etching the moment, Michael is seen standing dressed up in a full-fledged, head to toe Superman costume -including cape – standing in that well-known  Superman-pose that had me do a double take when I saw it.

I laughed . . . and chuckled . . . and smiled.   Michael – in a Superman costume – goofy as can be – putting himself out there for a cause.

Working on causes . . . charitable ones . . . philanthropy . . . isn’t easy for many reasons.

First, the opportunities are endless.  There are hundreds to thousands of great causes – and each one of them deserves assistance. Narrowing the scope and finding a good fit is nearly impossible.  There are local charities, state-wide causes, national organizations, and activities that may have personal ties.  There are opportunities to volunteer time, opportunities that require specific skills and those that just seek donations.  All of them require some type of effort in achieving their goals, and all of them are worthy, but how do we, as humans, make selections?

To add to the dilemma, the older I become, the more I see a world in great need.  From children to adults, the number of people facing daily challenges seems to be growing and growing and growing.  In fact, that number seems to far outweigh the number of folks who can assist.  As a teenager, I was just sure that by the time I entered my later years, I would see a reduction or elimination of the suffering, hunger, or poverty in the world.  How could that not happen?

I recall thinking – and probably chanting at some rally during the 70s – that if I was not part of the solution, then I was part of the problem.  Thus, reaching out and helping was and is the only direction to take.  And as I have aged, I continue to pursue more opportunities to make differences.  But, it doesn’t seem to be making even the slightest dent in the world.  For all of us, it can be disheartening to try so hard to make the world a better place, knowing that the fruits of our labors may come to fruition years, decades, centuries down the road.

And that is where my thoughts of Michael enter the picture.

Sometimes to make that difference in the world – to be a part of the solution – to help those in need – we have to step outside our normal and average selves and go for it!  If that means slipping over to our goofy side and dressing like Superman, then so be it!  If utilizing that sometimes inert goofiness inside all of us positively changes the world just one iota, then we all should strive to engage in the goofy more often.   I can think of no better use of crazy-funny actions than to save the world.

The willingness of others, like Michael, to be goofy to serve the greater good is, well, motivating.  If one person helps for one moment or gives one dollar more because of one action on the part of one person doing something relatively out of character, I am grateful and forever indebted.

So, today, I say . . . bring on the goofy.

mIKE

A photo of my cousin – in his everyday attire!

A Man of Few Words

Recently, my little brother, Rich, and I entered into an interesting partnership.  And during the time we were considering whether to do so, both Rich and I consulted with our father. And in comparing notes, my brother and I found that we were both asked the same questions:

“Do you trust him?” my father asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Do you love him?”

“Yes,” I replied again.

“Then do it,” he said, “Everything else will work out fine.”

In this conversation, my dad was brief and to the point. If the time elapsed was more than one minute, I will be shocked.  My pop only had two questions – one about trust and the other about love.  Never having been a man of many words and certainly never having been a touchy-feeling type guy, he assumed that the two question eight-word piece of advice was enough and it would be all that I would need.  And odd as it may sound, it was.

But it was only odd to me. Clearly, it was not odd to him.  For, as I sat next to my dad listening to those two questions and watching him deliver that very brief message, it became strangely clear that this wasn’t the only time that he had used this advice.

Throughout the next several weeks, as my brother and I cinched our partnership (keeping our dad apprised of the smaller subsequent decisions and choices we were making), my dad began opening up about the times that those two poignant questions guided him.

Should he marry my mother – the love of his life – and the love of ours? Yes.  Should he take a risk and move his family to a great new frontier called Florissant? Yes.  Should he listen to the advice from his father and take a job with a company formerly called Union Electric – now Ameren UE?  Yes.  Should he, himself, enter into all types of adventures and mis-adventures with his own brother, Bud – his dearest and lifelong best friend? Yes.

With love in his back pocket and trust at his side, he had no fear of his decisions.  He just didn’t. He still doesn’t. The outcome of his decisions may not always have been as planned, may not always have been perfect, and may have led down new and unexpected paths, but with love and trust, he always felt that his decisions were . . . correct . . . right . . . just.  Where some may have fear, he had confidence.  And at the moment he was asking me his two greatest questions, he wanted me to be confident, to have no fear.

When my father asked me if I trusted my brother, he made the term . . . the idea . . . seem so simple. He didn’t want frivolous conversation from me.  He didn’t want a lengthy discussion on trust, the origins of trust, and the positive benefits of trust.  He wasn’t planning on spending hours and days introducing the concept of trust and pondering its definition with me.  He wanted me to answer his question with a brief but confident yes or no.  He really didn’t want me to discuss the degree to which I trusted my brother or any reasons why I should or should not trust him or the dangers of doing so.  In fact, I think he was hoping that I wouldn’t speak, rather simply move my head yes or no – preferably yes, which I did.

When he asked me if I loved my baby brother, the same premise applied.  Yes or no.  Did I love him?  My pop didn’t want to know the details that could have been attached to that question.  He didn’t want to know any challenges surrounding it.  In fact, I think that had I begun some type of discussion when my pop asked that question, he may have given me the awe-inspiring, dad-blaster ‘no time for talking’ look – the look that fathers use to pretty much stop space and time – in order to refocus me.  He just wanted me to give him that one word answer, again with confidence – which was yes.

In less than one minute, with eight words in two questions, my pop did it again.  It was masterful advice in the blink of an eye.  He didn’t say it this way, but I definitely heard: Trust those you love . . . and love those you trust . . . everything beyond will fall in place.

His confidence in knowing that if I had trust and if I had love, then I should have no fear was moving.  And my dad has been right.  My brother and I are having the time of our lives – and couldn’t be happier with our decision.

I know that I, like my father, will keep those two questions handy.  And as I face complicated, challenging decisions in the future, I know that – like him – I will hope that those eight words give me the same type of guidance that they have done for my dad.

But I do have to chuckle.How in the world am I ever going to meet that standard!  Heck, 1000 words isn’t always enough for me to convey whatever it is that I want to convey. Well . . . at least I have a target!

Dad

Dad

Why is the ocean salty?

A couple of evenings ago, my younger brother sent me a question via a text and I immediately knew the answer to what he was asking. “Why”, he asked, “is the ocean salty?” I didn’t know his whereabouts, nor did I know why he had picked this moment to ask me that question, but I knew what he wanted. I was positive that he didn’t want me to head to Google to find a true and correct scientific reason why the ocean is salty.

I was curious, however. I wanted to know whether he was in the middle of a family discussion about poverty versus wealth or in a discussion about what should be the wishes in our lives. I wanted to know if he was looking for a way to convey a message about empathy, about selflessness or maybe hunger. Still, I didn’t ask the circumstance of his request. It really wasn’t important to know his reason for asking. It was more important for me to respond.

He and I, along with three other brothers and one sister, grew up with an array of folks moving in and out of our family home. Grandparents, cousins, aunts, friends came and went. And these individuals brought with them all types of fascinating personalities, interesting behaviors, and memorable moments. Oddly enough, one strength they all had – (as if it were an unwritten requirement of my parents to move into the house) – was the ability to tell a story. And in particular, it was my Grandma Polly who did so with regularity, precision, and looking back on it, perfection.

She told her stories at very unusual moments – while helping us dry the dishes, while playing card games with us, while walking to church, while waiting in line by the sink to brush our teeth – mainly while we were a captive audience. And she told the same stories over and over and over – so much so that most of us know them by the funky names we assigned to them. So when my brother asked me if I knew why the ocean was salty, I did. It was one of my grandmother’s most famous and most favorite stories.

What I did learn from his question and my later answer, however, was that storytelling isn’t a lost art, a thing of the past. In fact, with all the technology the world offers us today, storytelling is most likely in its golden era. People can tell stories using blogs, through email, by telephone or video, in print, via the U.S. mail, and, of course, in person. Storytelling can convey those unwritten and complicated rules of life in a simple, unassuming, and understandable fashion. It’s easy. It’s simple. And for some reason, storytelling has the uncanny ability to leave an indelible impression on the listeners. I know it did for me.

So, without hesitation, I began to text the story back to my brother – in fifty character segments:

A long time ago, before the world was known, there was an old woman who was hungry and poor.

She came upon a family who had everything they needed and wanted. She asked them for food and drink to save her life.

They looked at her, sneered and said, “Old woman, why should we help you? What can you do for us?”

She said, “I am old and poor, but I still have a favor, a wish, remaining that I received many years ago from the wise king and queen of my village. I have saved this last wish and I can give it to you.”

They laughed at her and said, “If you have a wish remaining, then why don’t you wish for food and drink for yourself?”

She lowered her head and whispered, “Wishes are never meant to be used to save yourself. They are meant to be used to help others. So I would never wish for something for me.”

“Well”, the family who had everything said in unison, “Then use your wish for us. We would be happy to take your wish for something we want. In return, here is just enough food and drink for you to live.”

So the tired and starving old woman traded her last wish for food and drink; and, she lived a long and productive life for she had learned to share what she had and to be generous and selfless in her actions.

While eating their own supper, the wealthy family talked about the many ways they could use their wish. They could wish for more gold, for more land, and for more possessions. The choices were many.

As the eldest took a bite of the meal of many meats and vegetables their servants had prepared, he pushed back his chair and bellowed a most unhappy sound.

“Bah!” he exclaimed. “This meat may be plenty, but it has poor taste. It has no seasoning, no salt. We need to punish those who prepared it.” And without thinking, he added, “I wish for more salt.”

At that instant, there appeared a salt mill on the banquet table in front of him. Though tiny, it was mighty and it kept grinding and grinding and grinding salt, never ever stopping.

Suddenly, the wealthy family realized that they had used their wish; and, all they were receiving was an endless supply of salt. No gold. No land. No possessions.

They beckoned for the old woman and said, “We order you to make it stop. Make it stop now. And return our wish to us immediately!”

The old woman shook her head as she gazed at the wealthy family. “I am sorry,” she said, “but your wish has been granted. There is nothing I can do. The salt will be a reminder to you that when you wish for something, make sure it is used for the benefit of others and not just for yourself.”

The wealthy family was so angry that they took the salt mill and threw it into the ocean, where it has kept grinding for centuries. To this day, it reminds us to always think of others before ourselves.

That is why the ocean is salty.Salty Ocean (1 of 1)

 

Fishing

I don’t like fishing.

And as a vegetarian, it isn’t any great surprise as to why I don’t like fishing.  I normally try, as best I can, to keep my personal views concerning something like fishing to myself.  It’s something that people do – and I don’t.  ‘Nuff said.

However, recently, while visiting the great state of North Carolina, my third son, Patrick, invited me to go fishing with him.  Twice.  And, as odd as it seemed to me, twice, I went.

The first time, he asked me to tag along with him to the ocean around noon.  His plan was to fish while slightly off-shore in a kayak.  With a pole, bait, oar, and a very small back pack full of odds and ends, he waded into the water with me behind.  My job was two-fold:  steady the kayak until he made it past the first barrage of waves and then return to shore and wait for him to return . . . which I did.

I sat on shore watching the yellow kayak swaying back and forth with the tide.  And at first, I could see him clearly.  I could see him casting, I could see him rowing, and I thought I could see him smiling.   But as time passed, he moved farther and farther towards the horizon, and it became more and more difficult for me to see anything more than a flash of yellow between ocean waves.

My mind moved away from my thoughts about fishing and towards my thoughts about my son and the danger of water, in particular ocean water.  Though thankful that he had put on a life jacket moments before jumping into the kayak, as time ticked forward, I still had that feeling in the pit of my stomach that says anything, anything can happen.  So, I began to walk and wade into the Atlantic – as if I could somehow wade and swim to the bobbing kayak.  Which realistically, I could not.

Within ten minutes, he either ran out of bait and decided on his own to end his journey or he saw me and figured that his mother was going to get herself into water-trouble and might need help, because the kayak was heading swiftly towards me.  Once we were within shouting distance, I could tell that he was delighted with the fishing.  Usually a quiet sort of guy, he rattled on about the ocean, the fish, the waves, those he caught and those he lost.  He was happy and wanted nothing more than for me to be happy for him.

The second fishing experience was quite different.  As the sun began to set one evening, he pointed towards the marsh, grabbed a pole, his tackle, and two chairs.  He could see that the weather was perfect and the tide was up.  The plan was to quickly – faster than lightning fast –  head out with him to fish.  Again, he asked me to go, and for some reason, I went.

With me literally running behind him, we stopped when he found the perfect spot. He set up my chair, dropped his, tossed me some stuff, waded out just beyond the water’s edge and began casting.  He fished and I watched him fish. It was a fairly quiet experience with the reel making the most noise of the evening. We stayed for as long as we could see, which wasn’t all that long.  In fact, it wasn’t long enough for him to actually catch anything.  When the sun dipped below the horizon, he gave me the ‘let’s pack up’ signal, and we did.  Walking back to our place, he explained the difference between fishing in the marsh and fishing in the ocean, between fishing in the morning and fishing in the evening, between fishing from shore and fishing in a kayak.

Though I am opposed to fishing – at all levels – and he knows it, I must admit that I did enjoy my fishing experience.  First, he caught nothing that I could see.  What he caught in the ocean, he tossed back.  And he caught nothing in the marsh.  Great for me.  Not so great, I suppose, for him.

Next and more importantly, it was interesting entering someone else’s world – in particular a world that I would never enter.  It was interesting changing my perspective – stepping out of my box and seeing something from a different viewpoint.  I went fishing.  Okay, my role was very limited – at best.  I didn’t use a fishing pole. I was my son’s crowd, his groupie, his audience.  I was there to observe . . . to learn . . . to understand.

And I learned that it is one thing to talk about having an open mind and talk about being accepting of the differing viewpoints and activities, and another thing to actually have that open mind and be accepting. I always thought I was accepting of his choice to fish, but in reality, I was only accepting of it at a distance.  I really knew nothing about it.  I was more critically sarcastic than honestly accepting.

But, walking in the shoes of others truly does heightening understanding. It takes time and effort to do so, and I had to jump out of my comfort zone and hope that I could see whatever it was that he was seeing – use his eyes, his mind as my guide.

I still do not want to fish, but I know a little bit more about why my son fishes, and I think I am a little more embracing of his choice.

And as the sun went down while we were standing in the marsh fishing, I thought about the poetry of yesterday . . .   with e.e. cummings (1894 – 1962) drifting through my mind:

now the ears of my ears awake and / now the eyes of my eyes are opened
fishin (1 of 1)

Turn, Turn, Turn

“To everything . . . turn, turn, turn.  There is a season . . . turn, turn, turn.  And a time for every purpose, under Heaven. A time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, a time to reap, a time to kill, a time to heal, a time to laugh, a time to weep . . .”  The Byrds, 1965.

At the time, it didn’t seem that small.  It just didn’t.  But, I suppose it was. Throughout the normal year, there were eight of us – six children (four boys, two girls) and our parents.  In the summer, however, the number increased.  Our grandmother arrived in May for a two month visit, and our cousin joined us in June for the summer.  And at least once each day – and sometimes two – the entire group would gather around the  wooden kitchen table  – oblong in shape with two benches and two end-chairs  – to eat.  With five to a side and my grandmother and father at the ends, it must have been elbow to elbow.  It just didn’t seem so at the time.

When it started, the home was 888 square feet – not including an unfinished full basement and a backyard. It had three bedrooms, one bathroom, and what would now be called an “eat-in” kitchen.  As I entered my teenage life, my folks expanded the house, tearing down the small bedroom wall to create a living-room/dining room combo, and adding a family room and a larger bedroom. Finally, well after I had moved out, they added a deck which spanned the entire length of the rear of the house.  Again, at the time, none of it seemed small.

There was a need for creativity, however, with only one bathroom and a minimum of eight residents.  On school mornings, showers started early and lasted a few minutes or less if possible.  The house had two sinks and it wasn’t beyond anyone to use the one in the kitchen to brush teeth or wash hair.  As the family aged, my father kindly set up a make-shift shower in the basement – weaving a hose through the ceiling joists, centering it over the floor drain, and encircling it with a shower curtain for as much privacy as a shower in the middle of an open basement could have.   It seemed luxurious and we felt lucky to have two showers.

Throughout the ensuring years, my parents added a large round, above-ground pool in the backyard – right next to the two story tree house, built by my brothers, and eventually secured for safety by my dad.  We had a one car garage which was fine during the time that we only owned one car.  As we learned to drive and bought more cars, we simply parked them in the street as best we could. Everything seemed to fit – nothing seemed too small.

In fact, our small house worked so well that on Christmas in 1976, my parents invited my aunt, uncle, and their four children to stay with us for the holidays. Total home population was fourteen residents, fifteen when my grandma arrived, with my parents welcoming many others on a daily basis to visit with our visitors.  For two weeks, we ate in shifts, showered on a schedule, slept wherever floorspace permitted, and, in general, made concessions on almost everything and anything related to space.  With a Christmas tree and presents filling up an already full family room, the space should have felt tight and cramped.  But again, it did not.

It never did.

Not too long ago, my husband, my son, and I went to that family home to stay overnight.  There were only three of us in the house at the time – as my father was staying at my brother’s house for the evening, and my mother had passed away a dozen years prior.   As we sat at the kitchen table, I thought back to the times when there would be a minimum of an additional five to seven individuals eating dinner in the same space.  Toe to toe, shoulder to shoulder, we would eat, talk, laugh, fight and cry with each other, meal after meal after meal after meal.

Something in the world has changed, however, because looking at that kitchen today with a yardstick and a ruler, it definitely would be considered small. It just would be. In fact, thinking back, there were times when rather than navigating through those sitting at the table,  the best way to walk through the kitchen was to exit out the back door, walk around and enter the front door.

The kitchen may have been small.  The bathroom may have been small.  In fact, the whole house may have been small;  but, what wasn’t small was the life of the folks living in that home.  From that small house, we learned a lot.

We learned to share – everything – closets, clothes, towels, bedrooms, shower space, radios, cars, food – nothing was sacred. In small spaces, individual ownership of things is tough – making sharing a natural, seamless, normal function. I look back on it and recognize that it was a blessing to learn the concept of sharing so prominently and passionately.

We also learned to be flexible.  People – cousins, grandparents, friends – moved in and out of the house all the time. In fact, the house seemed empty without someone staying with the eight of us.  We just shifted, moved, and/or switched places to meet the current needs without fanfare or concern.  A sleeping bag here – a blanket there – add a couple of pillows – and voila – we found the space.  With such flexibility, my parents reaffirmed the idea that it was our family that was blessed – to have so many folks who wanted to live with us.  We were the fortunate ones.  We were the lucky ones.

We learned that there was a time for everything. Everything was scheduled to make sure that life in the house ran like clockwork. Dinner time – 5:00pm.  Shower time – scheduled each morning.  Bedtime – on the half hour after 7:00pm depending on age.  Everything had its own moment, and it was best to capitalize on those moments.

Finally, as I march deeper and deeper into the 21st century, I only hope that I have learned to share well, to be flexible enough, and to know that “to everything there is a time and a purpose, under Heaven.”

At the edge of the world - a big and beautiful place.

At the edge of the world – a big and beautiful place.