200 Duquette Lane

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October 29th, 2011 at 200 Duquette Lane was an interesting date.

My father was sitting in the kitchen dressed in what can be described as his everyday wear – a favorite pair of very old khakis half cinched by a favorite old, slightly fraying black belt, topped off with a mostly intact Fruit-of-the-Loom white t-shirt. It wasn’t exactly company wear, nor was it pajamas. It was everyday wear. The kind where he knew company was coming, but there was no need for his clothes to make a big deal about it.

He was perched in his kitchen chair, pen in hand where he had both finished the Jumble correctly, found all the words in the Word-search, and written my mother’s name a thousand times a thousand times down the margin of the previous day’s newspaper. His half filled cup of coffee and his no-frills AM clock radio were the only other items on the table.

He was waiting. He was in it for the long haul, for the duration. If he was tired, it was unknown to the rest of the world. Looking back on it, I think his goal was to make it look like all normal eighty year old dads would be doing the exact same thing, sitting in the kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee, finishing word puzzles and writing his wife’s name, waiting patiently. Going to bed wasn’t even on his radar.

Nearing Duquette Lane, I reminded my daughter that no matter how excited we might be, it was late and Pop may be asleep. We needed to temper our over the top behavior quickly and appropriately. Our lifetime experience could wait until the morning to share. It was time for us to be polite, think of others and pull out our best manners. After all, there was no need to wake him up. Everything could wait.

Turning onto the street, everything looked as it should with houses buttoned up dark and tight for the evening. The only light shining at the beginning of the lane came from our car’s two headlight beams. Everything else was pitch black. Every house up and down the entire street blended calmly and wisely into the dark evening sky. That is every house except for 200 Duquette Lane which was, of course, our destination.

200 Duquette Lane was glowing. Porch lights on. Living room lights on. Dining room, bed room, garage lights on. And for those who know me and my family, the ever present indoor Christmas lights around the ceiling of the living room, dining room, family room and kitchen all on. My daughter looked at me and I looked at her, and at that moment we knew that the adventure that we had assumed had ended had actually not yet begun.

Forgetting decorum, we stormed into that house and it was easy to do because neither the screen door nor the front door had been locked, another sign that crazy fun was going to ensue.

And there in the kitchen at 200 Duquette Lane at 2:00am on October 29th, 2011 sat my dad in his everyday wear, with his newspaper and pen and coffee and clock radio.

His first words at that moment were few but they still make me smile, “Well, whatdidya think?”

My daughter and I both began babbling. Blah blah blah blah Pujols. Blah Blah Blah David Freese. Blah Blah Blah Yadi. Blah Blah Blah Allen Craig. Clydesdales, Confetti, Fireworks. People. Cardinals, Cardinals, Cardinals! We could not stop talking and he could not stop listening. I can’t remember if he asked any questions at all. I can only remember that we rehashed each and every play for each and every inning without stop. At one point, he asked us if we wanted a beer and though it would have been odd for him to ask me that question on any other day, on this day, it seemed appropriate, and we obliged. By that time, he had turned that radio on and we were now rehashing the game with the experts at KMOX, comparing their version to our version.

We did arrive at 200 Duquette bearing a gift. We had purchased several of the World Series Daily, an immediate newspaper publication available the moment the game ends from makeshift newspaper stands in front of the stadium exits. He read it. We read it. And by 4:00am, the three of us had officially decided that we all agreed with the Daily’s version of the events. And as we finished our beer and my dad clicked off the clock radio, we knew the adventure was soon coming to a close.

In the morning, my dad, my daughter and I went to his breakfast hangout and continued our conversation. When we returned to 200 Duquette Lane, I noticed that though all other lights had been switched off, the indoor ceiling Christmas lights were shining bright.

Looking back, I can see that my daughter and I did have a great adventure by going to Game 7 of the 2011 World Series won by the St. Louis Cardinals. But the greatest adventure of all was created by an 80 year old man who had the sense to click on the indoor Christmas lights, sit at his kitchen table and patiently wait for hours and hours just to have a conversation with his daughter and granddaughter. I’ve said it before – my dad and my mom were masters not at the extraordinary, but at doing the ordinary extraordinarily well.

If someone asks me today the play by play at that ball game, I can’t remember. I don’t know who pitched, who homered, who played or didn’t play. I know the Cardinals won, but the rest is one big blur. But, if they ask me what my father was wearing, where he was sitting, what he was doing, and what lights were on, I can describe that in minute detail.

Somethings are worth remembering.

You’re On Your Honor

Those were the words. One simple statement.  Five little words. Spoken quickly and directly.  First a brief hug, followed by a look that recognized that adventure was going to abound, then some kind of glare that probably meant I was going to be missed, and finally just as my foot would reach for the first step towards leaving, he would lay it down . . . “You’re on your honor.”

My mind would have been filled with the promise of high jinx, with plans of spending time not so wisely, in the greatest of crazy-funny ways, with hopes of avoiding all rules and breaking those that accidentally cropped up.  And then he would add, “You’re on your honor.”   

He didn’t tell me to behave.  He didn’t tell me to make good choices.  There was no lecture and reminders of rules and such. He went for something  subtle and crafty.  He went for the big picture, using tiny words that I could easily remember.

You’re on your honor.

Honor wasn’t foreign term to me.  In fact, it was something that had been a part of my culture starting at a very early age. First, growing up in a large Catholic family, lots of time was spent talking about whether or not I honored my father and mother enough or in the right way. Like most kids, I was amazingly imperfect and caused my fair share of ruckuses. So, the term honor popped up regularly.

After all, honoring thy mother and father was and still is one of the big ten. I must ashamedly admit that it was one of my favorite venial sins to report in my weekly confession sin list because A) most likely I had done something to dishonor my parents within the past seven days, and  B) reporting that sin was better than reporting some of the other nine. At one point in my life, I distinctly remember a moment when my father looked at my heap  o’trash-  (with freedom at the heart) – filled bedroom and quizzically asked me, “Is that how you honor your mother? Clothes everywhere, bed not made, school work – dishes – and trash on the floor.  I’d say this is the definition of total dishonor, young lady.”   

The term honor also popped up at my childhood home when it was our family’s turn to house the traveling statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The OLF statue made its rounds throughout the entire OLF parish.  As the parish was quite large, the statue made its way to my family home  only once every few years.  But when it did, my mother was a force in teaching me what it meant to honor the life of Our Lady of Fatima.  We read her biography, said appropriate prayers, talked about why she should be honored, cleaned and polished the statue, and in general acted honorably for the period of time that it resided with us.  It was natural for me to equate the term honor with the term respect.

Finally, my childhood put me in routine contact with honor as all of my gal pals who moved with me from Brownies to Juniors to Cadettes to Seniors during the 1960s/1970s can attest.   For at each gathering, whether it be a weekly meeting, a special activity, an overnight event, or a multiple week long camp, we Girl Scouts would proudly recited the promise which put us in a state of honor at all times:

“On my honor, I will try to do my duty to God and my country, to help other people at all times and to obey the Girl Scout Laws.”

Through thick and thin, I pledged to do all that . . . on my honor.  This type of honor was still about respect, but it was also about something a little bit more.  We – my girlfriends and I –  were respecting the world and everything that was in it.  We were promising to give it our all to improve what we could, fighting for all that was right.  We were placing trust in each other than whatever the situation, we would behave in a way that brought pride to ourselves as individuals. We did not want, nor did we need anyone standing right behind us to tell us the best way to behave.  We were on our honor to just know what to do and we expected each other to do it. I was being held accountable by no one other than myself.

Hence, when my father told me that I was on my honor, he wanted me to remember that there were rules in the world and that some of them – for sure the big ten – needed to be followed.  There was also a belief when he mentioned those words that I would be able to recognize that there are individuals out in the great beyond that have lived lives that deserve honor. Some people show leadership during times of great hardship.  Some people lead saintly lives that should be remembered and revered.  They have done things that I can only aspire to.  Lastly, being on my honor meant that  I understood and respected the basic rules of society that can lead everyone to the greater good. And that someday there would be no one other than myself to make sure that I led an honorable life.

Currently, I am on my honor. But, I am not exactly on my ordinary honor.  Instead, it feels like I am standing on a tiny ledge on a high mountain in a vast world of what it means to be on my honor.  I know that it is not the time for me to step outside the lines of my honor right now.  It is important for me to look beyond myself in all of my actions.  I have a duty to assess the simplest of actions in order to honor society appropriately.  Honorable and dishonorable actions have so much more consequence today than they did a mere few months ago. 

With so much unknown in the world, I am very thankful. 

I’m thankful that I was sent out to practice being on my honor so many moons ago.  It becomes important when it’s no longer practice. 

Flowers

Nature is always honorable!

Sticks and Stones

“Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never harm you.” That was her line. That’s what she said and she said it often. She said it when I was a youngster when family and friends hurled names at me. She said it throughout my teenage years when everyone was becoming their better selves but had awkward means of doing so. She said it as I went off to college and heard those who were in roles of authority question my way of life to the point of unsettlement.  And she said it when I asked how to help my own children through some of the exact same circumstances I had faced many years ago in my early life.

It was my mom’s mantra. And it was oft used by her.

My mom wasn’t one to tolerate a “woe is me” attitude. She accepted very little crying or moping about language battles. What could take a lifetime to teach, she said with 13 words.  “Someone called you stupid?  Are you? Well then sticks and stones….”  “Your feelings are hurt because they told you girls can’t do that? Do you believe them? Create new rules. Ignore them. And for goodness sakes, stop you’re crying. Sticks and stones …..”  “Your professor belittled you in front of the class, and you’re thinking the best you can do is whine about it?  Straighten out that skirt and figure it out. Sticks and stones …..”  

For a long period in my life, it seemed like every conversation ending with that phrase.

My mom was a pushover mom in many ways. She was the go to for money and time I needed an extra dollar or two. She was the one to ask for a new dress or shoes or any piece of fashion because that followed her interests. She was the one to reach first when involved in large scale blunders as her punishments were simple compared to my father’s corrective choices.

It was easy street with her in many ways.

But not in the world of word wars. That’s where the tough love program started. She had no intention of allowing me to believe that someone out there could crush me with words. She wanted my skin to be as thick as it needed to be to ensure that word wars had no lasting impact on me.  She was a great support system for me. Like any youngster, I would run home babbling about someone who had said something unkind, unpleasant and sometimes revolting to me …at me …about me. She always listened. She always pondered. She always offered sympathy. And she always let me have that moment that exists between exasperation and sensibility to gain my traction.

But in the end, she gave me the one – two dust off, turned me around, pushed my momentum forward and added, “Sticks and stones…..!”

Looking back, I can tell that it was a part of her scheme to build confidence in me. She knew that the there would be moments and times that I would need to have confidence in my arsenal, and that I would need it at the ready. So she brought on the quick and easy “sticks and stones” speech whenever it fit, which she thought it did in many circumstances. 

Confidence is a tricky thing.  Truth be told, I am not exactly sure where it comes from and how it develops.   I am not certain that I know its exact definition.  And I often wonder if I have enough or have too much.  When I do think about it in a more detailed fashion – which is like now – it becomes one large pondering conundrum and before I know it, I am more confused and seemingly less confident about it than I was moments before.

Bottom line, the only thing that I am confident about confidence is that it is a needed quality.

Which may explain my generally wacky lifestyle.  For, I do believe that confidence grows in positive environments.  I believe the more positive I am in my actions and attitudes, the more I surround myself in positive situations, the more likely my confidence will grow.  I tend to eliminate negative anything from my world intentionally.  The books I read, the television I watch, the music I listen to all brings that which is positive towards me and takes that which is negative away from me. 

I live ‘a rose-colored glasses, cup half full, sugar is better than salt, a why-not-be-a-little-naive cause it is a key to happy land’ life, everyday.  I even generally steer away from language that is less than positive just to keep myself on track.  Holy cow, holy guacamole, and rats are my go-to terms and they seem to work just fine, for me.  Most mornings, I wake up and make sure that I spend time wondering what the new day is going to bring to me.  I want to start my waking time thinking that something awesome is going to occur.  And it usually does. But that’s me.

I know that confidence and confidence building is individual.

Izzy Jo’s “sticks and stone” certainly does not fit into every situation and it does not work for everyone.  It is one tool that my mother shared with me and it can be effective.  It takes time and effort for all of us to find the right tools and it takes commitment and determination to constantly use those tools.  Creating a positive force field and bouncing out of bed looking for wonderment works for me in terms of maintaining a good confident balance in my life.  I suppose what I hope for others is that everyone finds that which increases the confidence in their lives. 

And during those moments when I fall back on being the best positive self I can be and fail to bound out of bed towards the wonders of the world and lose the confidence I need to weather potential storms, I hope that my family and friends take note, and share with me their tools.

Cause my toolbox is far from full.  The vacancy sign is always flashing, my friends. 

girls

A 2017 photo, but it’s a photo full of the confident women in my life.

Perfect / Not Perfect

I am not perfect.

In fact, I often believe that I am so far from it and that its target is way too small and the journey is beyond too tough.  Because I make a million mistakes . . . all the time.  And each mistake is bigger and larger and more daunting than the one before it. 

And I don’t seem to learn from my mistakes.  Too many times, I make a mistake, understand the mistake, live another day, and make the same mistake again, repeating the cycle more times that I can count. 

On top of that, it is not easy to personally or publicly admit that I make fantastic, blunderous mistakes. 

Hmmm . . . well, check that. There are some mistakes that are easy to own.  I spent quite a bit of an evening not too long ago ripping out all kinds of mistakes in a quilt that I am building.  I did not see them until I was a long piece down the mistake trail, which meant that not only was I required to spent time undoing what I had wrongly done, but I had hours of time to ponder out the origin, cause, and cure of my errors. And from my boisterous grunts and growls, (meant to alert those within earshot that I was upset), my family knew I was so.

Likewise mistakes with my recent construction project are easy to own.  I am a newbie to building, to using power tools, to measuring, cutting, and hammering pieces of wood together.  My expectations on how perfect I should be are skewed to the lower end.  Thus admitting that I make tons of mistakes is rather easy.  Besides that, construction mistakes are something that are easy to see and difficult to hide.  Admitting them is a matter of course rather than a matter of being honest and forthright.

It is everything else that fits into the box called mistakes that I find hard to admit.  The list of those types of errors is a list that grows day by day.  I fail to be empathetic.  I fail to curb my vocabulary, choosing words that harm way more than words that help.  I fail to complete and keep my promises.  I make mistakes in terms of what I think, gravitating towards thoughts that generate negativity quickly rather than positivity slowly.  I think things, say things, and do things that I shouldn’t.  It can be and is embarrassing.

Recently, after reading some news story about a senseless murder, I thought and said that the perpetrator “should be shot and I’d be happy to do it.” Not only did I think it, I said it. To hell with justice, a fair trial, to wading through facts and fiction, I read a few paragraphs and spouted off as if I was in the know about it. I went directly from non-violent to violent in a flash of a moment. Mistake.

I also had it in my mind that I was smart enough and bright enough to figure out the immigration issue, the next steps with the Mueller Report, climate change, and the workings of social security – generally all by myself. Big mistake.

Finally, I thought that my solutions to everything that was happening within my immediate family, friends, community, tri-county area, state, and the near midwest were spot on correct.  And sharing those solutions was a good to great idea.  Well, big huge mistake.  All wrong. 

While ripping out those quilting mistakes, I had time to think about it.  All of it.

I am not perfect.

Yet, there is much in the world around me that actually is perfect, that has no mistake.

Rain. The Forest. Animals. The Sky. The Ocean. Time. Stars. The Solar System. Math. Plants. Color. Wind. Ice. Mountains. Apples. I could go on and on and on.  And it is actually a great list to generate – a list of everything one considers perfect.

Horses running in a field – perfect.  Light bouncing off a hillside – perfect.  Twenty-four hours in every day, every week, month, year – perfect.  Gravity keeping everything in place – perfect.

I’ll let it be known that I have worked on the perfect/imperfect list many times.  And my result is always a lopsided list, showing me that there is by far more perfect in my world, than imperfect. 

And as much as I would like to add my name to the perfect list, I can not.  In fact, every time I spend time wondering about the perfect/ not perfect list, I have never made the cut. I think I am imperfect by design.  Making mistakes, being well less than perfect creates a great balance in my world. I always have a lot to work on.  I have much to improve.  Much to change. A lot to consider.

I keep up my hope by seeking the thoughts of others in terms of mistakes, failures, imperfection / perfection.  

Wayne Gretzky – “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Henry Ford – “The only real mistake is one from which we learn nothing.”

Maya Angelou – “Every mistake is just another lesson.”

Sandra Day O’Connor – “No one learns more about a problem than the person at the bottom.”

I would be a wise woman if I put these types of inspirational thoughts in front of me at all times to remind me that everything is possible, even perfection.  But, as you might expect, I often fail to do so. Thus, the journey continues.

In the meantime, my deepest apologies for all the mistakes I have made today alone, and an advance apology for the mistakes I will make tomorrow.

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Nature always manages to be Perfect!

Ready?

I’m not ready.

I’m sixty-two years old and do consider myself to be smart enough, capable enough, thoughtful enough, but there is still that lingering moment.  That flash of time between the second that my ears hear and my mind revs up into motion. And I think . . .  I’m not ready. I’m just not. 

And I don’t know when I will be. 

I’m hoping it will be when I’m sixty-two and a couple months, which is right around the corner.  Or when the winter turns to spring. Or spring to summer, summer to fall, fall to winter.  Or I’m thinking it might be when someone taps me on the shoulder in some way and says in a loud firm voice, “You, Deb, are ready.”  But, I know the latter is not what will be happening.  It’s just a wild dream of mine.

My children, four of the biggest blessings in my life and all grown, call me on a regular basis and share with me their life trials and tribulations as happens in most families.  Some chats are routine . . . about the day’s or week’s activities.  Cooking and recipes.  How to chip ice quickly off of a windshield.  Where to buy the best and cheapest phone plans.  Some conversations are slightly more involved. What to do when the roof leaks during a polar vortex.  The best way to volunteer to help the homeless in our community.  How much is enough in a future college fund. (Slightly less than a million and way more than a hundred thousand, I say??????) 

And then there are the big convos, the thinkers, the tête-à-têtes that are truly involved.  What to do when faced with situations that have no clear cut right answer and may in fact have two right answers.  How to handle family dilemmas that are so complex that even deep thought doesn’t reach the crux of the matter.  What to do during moments of great sadness, tremendous illness, or frightening financial hardships.  Those types of most challenging conversations are the ones that often leave me believing that I am not ready. 

You know . . .my mom and my dad always seemed ready. 

I could call them with the most perplexing, disastrous, complex state of affairs and the two of them would always be able to rattle off some piece of advise that spoke to me.  I realize that most of the time my parents just listened and let me prattle on and on until I found my path, but they were good at that part.  In fact, they were great at it. 

House falling down?  Here’s a solution.  Don’t have enough money?  Here’s a plan.  Children are out of control.  How about these ideas.  And on it went from one conversation to the next. My parents were my greatest confidants through it all. 

My parents actually seemed skilled at it.  It was like they had sat on some team sideline, learned a lot, and when it was game time, they were the best first string ever. They never ever let me down that I can remember.  Sadly my parents, God rest their souls, are no longer with me here on earth, my mom being gone much longer than my dad. Both have moved on.  Like most of us, I still think about picking up that telephone and dialing 1-800-helpmeplease, but that is just not the way the world works.

Now in my world, I am not exactly on my own.  In terms of family, I am lucky enough to have three wonderfully wise aunts – Norma, Pat, and Susan, and one equally wonderfully wise uncle – David.  And I have often enough touched base with them and gleaned the words of wisdom I needed to push me forward. They have lived longer than I, seen more than me, and are wickedly smart about what it takes to live a good and caring life.  I know that each of them will happily and willingly avail themselves to me if and when I need them.  As family they have always provided me with a safety net beyond what words can express.  In the end, however, I think it is my time to put my big girl pants on and be ready by myself.  I think?  And in thinking about being at the ready, I’ve concluded that perhaps I will never feel like I am, with the stress on the word feel.  That actually no one does and that is the key.

It has taken me a long time, but I have finally realized that the world is filled with opportunities to doubt, to question myself, to see so many paths and not know exactly which one to take. It is full of moments that challenge me in ways that can thrust me backwards, but usually inch me forward to new and exciting places.  The world has been a great big unknown from the moment that I have launched until this moment, and that is what brings the crazy-fun and adventure into it. 

And I have resources! 

I have the wisest of family members and a bevy of close trusted friends who often offer thoughts and ideas to me and for me.  Plus, there is a world of folks who provide guidance through art, music, literature and beyond, lest I forget the power of a piece of poetry or a song from the 70s or a painting by a world famous artist.   Then there is nature that is a huge door to peaceful, clear moments of thought.  A walk through the snow, a sighting of spring’s first flowers, a sunrise to a sunset, nature never lets me down if I take a moment to look at it.

So it’s done.  I’m not ready.  I’m really not ready, and I have no plans to ever be ready.  At least those are my thoughts for today. 

Onward I go!!

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Nature is always ready with spaces that provide time to ponder away!

To Every Thing

He was always there . . .

He was always there.  Winter, spring, summer, fall. There he was.  As a child, I would see him each week, and though we never chatted or discussed it, I suppose he would have seen me each week as well.  Always wearing a brown three-piece suit.  Always had a hat.  Always happy.

He sat on the St. Joseph side while my family and I sat on the Mother Mary side.  Both of us walked halfway down the aisle every Sunday and scooted into a pew that was nearly a dozen shy of the front of the church.  In essence, we were ‘peripheral parallel pew partners’.  Always.

Oddly enough, the week, the month, the year did not matter.  From the earliest that I can remember to the time that Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church on Washington in Florissant closed, he was always there.  If I was in town for a visit and attended the 10:00am Sunday mass, he was there.  It didn’t matter how many people were with me or what the occasion.  If it was Sunday at 10:00am, I would lean forward in my pew, peer down the row, and there he was.  Always.

His name eludes me, but his personality does not.  He seemed to be a man of great faith, a man with a great smile, a man with friendly eyes and a confident step.  He also seemed to be a man who valued consistency, at least on Sunday.

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Consistency is an interesting concept, and at moments, has some type of attraction for me.  Call it a routine.  Call it a habit. Call it a custom or a tradition.  Regardless of the term, there is something about things that are the same over and over that catches my attention. 

However, consistency has its detractors.  Just ask Mr. Oscar Wilde, a nineteenth century Irish poet and playwright, who contends that “(c)onsistency is the hallmark of the unimaginative.”  There are many different buckets that I placed myself into, but I shudder when I think about being plunked down into the unimaginative one.  Not a place I want to exactly go.

Still, I like waking up at the same time everyday, hopping out of bed and knowing that the first fifteen minutes of my morning are going to be spend exactly like the first fifteen minutes of yesterday’s morning.  In fact, the first sixty minutes of my day is highly, highly consistent. And that most unimaginative time seems to give me a wondrous opportunity to think and ponder and dream, often times bringing that which isn’t mundane out of the mundane.

Per Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”  Thus, I claim that consistency has a greater purpose than what Mr. Wilde concludes. 

Take parenting.  I often link good parenting with consistency.  It seems like a natural partnership.  I can readily recall my children having been justifiably angry with me for being wrong as a parent and making related missteps because I was wrong as a parent, but they were never mad or disappointed with me for being consistent as a parent.  Case in point: they may not have liked the food I prepared for dinner week in and week out (I have never claimed to be a great cook – sorry gang), but they seemed rather appreciative that some sort of meal would show up on the same table at the same time with the same characters in the same seats each night. 

On the flip side, I relish the moments that are truly inconsistent, the times that I have no idea exactly what is going to happen next, and am aware of that feeling in my stomach that tells me that something very unknown is happening.  Mary Poppins, in Mary Poppins Returns, says is best when she leads the Banks children into a mystical and magical moment, and states, rather firmly, “We’re on the brink of an adventure, children. Don’t spoil it with too many questions.” Consistency is being damned at this juncture, sent away, chided, and left behind.  All jets are set to go, and imagination takes over.

And again, to every thing, there is a season.

I honestly hope, in the deep recesses of my heart, that I understand the difference between the beneficial consistency and the non-beneficial consistency, and  know when to use the appropriate bucket.  Certainly the turn of a new year gives me plenty of opportunity to work on it.

And if there is ever a moment, when my childhood church reverts from its current status as an offsite location for a regional university back to Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, and I show up at 10:00am on a Sunday, I know exactly who I will see on the St. Joseph side of the aisle! 

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It’s a tradition for my daughter and I to consistently stand on the same side when being photographed. Just sayin’

 

What Happened to That Girl?

It was Tuesday.  At 11:00am. In my kitchen.  I was standing over the sink, lamenting the countless water spots that littered my stainless steel sink.  With absolutely no hesitation, I reached under that sink, pulled out my Weiman’s Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polish plus two fresh reusable, recyclable dishrags and began to earnestly polish that puppy.  In no time, the sink was more shiny than glitter in the sun.  Job finished . . .But then my eyes caught something else . . .  those pesky streaks stretched across an otherwise clean and uncluttered countertop. I began to pull out the homemade vinegar/water spray bottle solution and more dishrags, when I just stopped.  I just froze.  I stood.  I stared.

And at that moment . . . the light when on and time seemed to be moving backwards.  It was as if the bulb not only was turned on, but had somehow maxed out its ability to shed one more ounce of  light.  There I was, in the kitchen, holding my Weiman’s, at age 61 and 1/2, looking at a glistening kitchen, recognizing that I had successfully and honestly turned into my mother.  I was Izzy.  It finally happened.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love my mother, God rest her soul.  She was everything to me.  A great, great mother.  A great mother.  And I miss her dearly. And Isabelle Washford Greiner spent a large chunk of her life . . . in the kitchen.

The kitchen happened to be in the center of my childhood house, and was on the small side.  In that crazy tiny kitchen, she cooked up a storm in there, clinking and clambering those pots and pans until she produced a meal.  And as the family finished eating, Isabelle would be cleaning that kitchen with the gusto of a race horse in first place headed for the finish line. Tidy in and tidy out, morning, noon, and night, each and every day.   And now, I was doing the very same thing, in much the same way, as my mom had long ago done.  Holy transformation, Batman!

Really – as a youngster, no one accused me of being neat and tidy.  In fact, I was just the opposite.  My clothes never saw a closet they liked.  My bedroom floor was too littered with junk, trash, and other assorted sundries to ever be seen.  Pencils, pens, paper, books, dishes, laundry, etc. were piled high. I am sure that even bugs detested the quality of life in my room and scampered away. But, I was one happy camper there.

My mother’s kitchen was perfection.  My room was beyond a catastrophic failure.

And all I could think was . . .What happened to that girl?

I looked at my kitchen at that moment and began to think way more deeply than I expected.

What happened to that girl who was so sure that she could solve poverty . . . eliminate hunger . . . end war?  What happened to that girl who protested for change . . .participated in every sit-in in the near metro vicinity . . . fought for social justice.  What happened to that girl who listened to hard rock music full blast, wore clothes that represented the meaning of the 70s, jumped off cliffs, slid down mountains, and in general approached life by taking risks without ever thinking about potential consequences?

What happened to that girl?

Never in my wildest dreams in my youth did I ever think I would own a kitchen, let alone have one with granite, stainless steel, hardwood, and recycled crown moulding. I had no idea that I would be married for forty years, have four children, and spend a lifetime working in education. I had no idea that  there would be so many twists and turns to my life and that there would be so many choices to make in so such a short amount of time.

What happened to this girl was the same thing that happened to my mom.

We grew up.

And in growing up, we both learned similar lessons in very different generations.

I have learned that world change comes slow.  I may want it to be faster than the speed of lightening and more powerful than a locomotive, but it still comes slow.  I have learned that fights worth fighting won’t fall off my radar.  I’m still out there doing my part for poverty, hunger, and war.  I’m just not as dramatic or over-the-top about it.

I have learned that there are ways to protest beyond carrying a handprinted sign and marching through the streets, that sometimes what we don’t say or do is much more powerful than too many words and too much action.  I have learned to love more than one category of music and one type of apparel.  Luke Bryan and flannel shirts are my friends.

And finally, I have learned that it is very important for all of us to continue to take risks, every day . . . in every way. Growing up doesn’t mean settling. Not at all. Today, I may be unable to jump off roofs or ride a bike with no hands or backflip off the trampoline into the swimming pool, but I can still be a risk-taker.

We can step forward even when it is uncomfortable.  We can work for those who can’t work for themselves.  We can walk on the edge of life and feel that wind on our backs.  And we can spend everyday anxiously anticipating the next adventure that lurks around the corner.

My phrase can’t be “What happened to that girl?”  It must be “The ride of her life is going to happen to that girl.”  Let the crazy fun continue.

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Waving on the ride of my life

 

 

This Life is the Best Life Ever

He turned to me and smiled.  It was a flash of a moment.  A quick grin.  In total, it probably lasted less than a second, and when it happened, I really didn’t think too much of it.  But, it was the same smile – the same welcome – the same hello – the same moment of family affection – that we have shared over the past 50+ years.

Throughout the day’s activities, I probably saw that same smile a hundred different times. . . when we loaded into the boat . . . when we jumped into the lake . . . when we prepared to eat . . .when we ate . . . when we cleaned . . . when we sat and talked . . .  when we drank . . . when we reloaded into the boat . . . when we watched fireworks.

I can honestly say that I can only recall a fraction of our topics of conversation.  We talked a lot, about a lot of great subjects.  But if pressed, I must admit that the specific details are more than a little bit blurry to me.  The smile, however, is etched clear as a bell in my mind.

And that is fascinating to me.

I find it interesting to think about what I retain in my memory and what I don’t.  It is a filing system that I have never really understood.  I have memories and the ability to remember, but I have no idea how it all comes together.

That part’s a blur.

I think I have a solid ability to memorize, which means I can actively place something in storage and bring it to the forefront when necessary.  That part isn’t random. It is intentional. Sooooooo comforting to know that the memory part of my mind is not just a vast wasteland!

I also have memories that are linked to sounds and smells and sights and tastes and touches.  Drinking lemonade brings out memories of my grandfather.  Carole King songs take me back to 8th grade backyard camp outs.  If I smell suntan lotion, I am time-warped back to every Florida vacation I ever took as a child.

My interest isn’t in the fact that there are sensory associations to my memory.  Moreover, I would like to know why these particular associations.  What clicked in my brain to forever link various everyday items with happenings in my past.

All I can say is  – interesting!

In addition, I have taken my fair share of general education courses targeting the memory topic. Somewhere in my educational background is a stream of knowledge on this very issue. I spent credit hours and clock hours of time reading books, listening to lectures, writing papers, and taking tests to expand my mind about what memories are.  The good news is that I can recall taking those classes.  The bad news is that the exact content is a little vague . . . until and unless I read my college notes as a refresher or I utilize that Scholar-Google for a little assistance.  My memory on memory is less than memorable.

I am the type of person who tends to have an imbalance in terms of positive/negative memories.  Like everyone else, I have had my fair share of not so pleasant circumstances in my life, but I only really remember the glass half full times.  Bad moments, hard moments, sad moments are in that great big filing system in the sky, but happy, crazy-funny, joyous moments are the easiest for me to recall.   I assume it is like that for everyone.  I know it is for me.

The 2018 July 4th weekend brought all kinds of moments into my life.

I will remember the outline of young Brooke sailing towards us on the paddle board in the dim of the early evening on the lake.

I will remember the laughter of Max and Cosi as they were pulled behind a slow-moving boat.

I will always see the gentle hand of Craig as he kindly moved a rope back and forth to ensure the safety of several young charges being towed behind the boat.

Without any trouble at all, I will hear the chatter coming from the cousin table – a group of nine lake-logged guys and gals, boys and girls whose ages ranged from 6 to 39 – as they sat outside together eating, talking, laughing, and bonding. And the chatter coming from the adult table – same activity a mere few feet away from the first group.

With all of these memories, I cannot recall any of the details sandwiched in between the moments. Many hours passed, so I know a lot more actually happened.  But I can barely recall exactly what we ate.  I have no idea what everyone was wearing, and I am quite sure I can’t remember who arrived first or departed last.

What I will remember of these times is much more stark and simple.

My daughter’s twinkling eyes . . .  my sister-in-law’s laugh . . .  my brother’s hug . . .  my cousin, Carl’s smile.

This life is the best life ever.

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Fireworks on the Lake

What’s In Your Wallet?

My husband is a very consistent type of guy. And for his four children plus me who know him well, we all know that he carries an odd conglomeration of whatnot everyday. All of the items fit comfortably within the corners of his pants pockets, and each of the them is practical as the day is long. None are overly expensive, and yet together they create more interest than he ever expected.

I, too, have a short list of items that I always carry. My grouping, however, is nowhere near as compact as his. In fact, mine can’t fit in a pocket and are instead kept in a dingy, yet rugged, ziplock bag, plopped in whatever purse I’m using. Mine aren’t near as purposeful and I am very uncertain about the message they generate. Still, I carry them.

His list is simple – a freshly laundered handkerchief for him and for sharing, a few dollars to buy him out of any monetary jam, a scrap of paper with an early morning minted ‘to-do’ list, and a pen. My list is a little more harebrained and non-sequitur-ish.  In no particular order, I carry a pocket-sized copy of the constitution of the United States, my first communion prayer book, a full rosary & a bracelet rosary, and one $2.00 bill.

If I sneeze or if someone else sneezes, I have no immediate particular solution. I’m like a dog chasing its tail, looking round and round for tissue somewhere, somehow.  I have witnessed my husband, on the other hand, reach into his pocket, pull out a crisply folded handkerchief, and use it for the save. In his line of work with patients, I am sure it is more than comforting to have him – without fail – carry an immediate solution to a potential germ crisis.

On the flip side of this coin, I may not be able to circumvent the common household sneeze, but I am able to quickly read the list of names of the Supreme Court justices in order – which happens to be part of the pocket constitution addendum, page 87, seventh edition. I can give guidance on the amendments, offer “Fascinating Facts about Six Founding Fathers,” and help if someone gets stuck reciting the Declaration of Independence. My mini-book is filled to the brim with great stuff to solve all constitutional crises.

However, if traveling on tollways or tipping valets or purchasing a food cart meal, it’s my husband who carries the right stuff. He’s absolutely correct that cash can quickly circumvents calamities. It just does. Need a five, he has a five. Need a ten, he has a ten. Need a twenty, he’s got it. He has all denominations and all combinations of cash and coins too.

He’s always cash rich and I’m always cash poor. Except when it comes to the two dollar bill. That’s my strength. Twenty dollars may cover costs, but a two dollar bill always buys a smile. The two dollar bill buys little, is used little, and is worth little.  But, it’s fun – which I believe is its sole circulation purpose.  No other paper denomination has such crazy-funny power.  And spending a twenty dollar bill is easy, but carrying and spending ten two dollar bills takes a little more courage and thought.  Just try it.  It’s not as simple as it sounds.

Moving on, having possessed my Saint Joseph Children’s Missal since 1964, it is showing severe signs of age. The spine is taped.  The pages are tilted.  And the cover is worn. But, the gentle message inside has the ability to keep me grounded. It’s not a matter of me reading it at a moment of need, just a matter of me being reminded that the world is still in front of me, that I have a group standing with me, and that there is nothing that is impossible when my God is with me.

Likewise is that little ‘to-do’ list that my husband carries. Threaded among the bullet points that remind him to run past the bank or pick up some grocery item are notes that remind him to follow his dreams, to think big and broad, to care for others, and to see the glass half full, not half empty. I only wish I had the fortitude to create and carry such a daily list. He’s got it. I don’t. Nuf’ said.

Then there’s his pen. The purpose of the pen is writing – and the majority of the time that’s what he does with it. But, I have seen him use it to pry things open, to clip something together, and to wedge something apart. He thinks he’s MacGyver.  Always has.  He sees a pen as a tool that happens to contain a little ink. Clogged sink – use the pen. Barefoot and a bug needs to be killed – use a pen. Burgers flaming out of control and spatula is missing – use a pen. There is no problem that the pen can’t solve with a little thought and ingenuity.  In the future, I am hoping to film his uses of the pen to create what I think would be one of the most viral YouTube videos this side of the Mississippi.

Me – my skills with a pen are limited to only those that include paper and writing. If I’m in need of an inventive solution to a difficult problem, I go for the rosary every time. In the short term, the pen might be more successful, but in the long run, the rosary – whole or decade version – may be the best choice.

In the end, the items that we collectively carry are only purposeful to us as individuals. He can’t use my rosary to pray his way out of a sudden sneeze and his handkerchief won’t help me understand the Bill of Rights.

I only hope that my tattered and nearly torn ziplock bag remains in tact for a few more decades. I gotta lot of trouble to explore and I may need its contents.

And I might add a pen for the just in case moments.

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Need a pen?  Or a two dollar bill?  Just ask us.

The Poems of My Life

(I am hoping that it is fine arts month, cause the topic is POETRY!  Holy Cow! Here we go . . .)

The poems of my life is a short list.

Not because I haven’t read, studied, been exposed, ran across, pondered, discussed, and/or analyzed many.  For, like most folks, my life has introduced me to a litany of great poets, young old, male, female, American, non-American . . . .  just lots.

But the poems of my life is still a short list.

My youth was filled with all types of poetry from the iambic tetrameter of “I will not eat green eggs and ham, I will not eat them sam-I-am” to the simple ditties of “hickory, dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock.”  I laughed, smiled, and repeated as my mother, god-rest-her-soul, spent countless hours sharing with me the likes of Dr. Seuss and other fan-favorite authors who created easy to read and understand poetry for children.

Moreover, I grew up during the “you will read the classics” era.  Before I even came close to reaching high school, my education had exposed me to The Raven, The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The Road Not Taken, and Oh Captain! My Captain.  Once in secondary school, the list grew much longer and included much more complex and perplexing selections – Daddy, Dream Deferred, Howl, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Mending Wall, Still I Rise, The Waste Land, and Who Am I.   And college offered a steady stream of poetry that was mystifying, sometimes mortifying, always mysterious, and was light years beyond my cognitive abilities – Leaves of Grass, Beowulf, and any Shakespearean Sonnet.

It would have seemed logical that as my exposure to poetry grew, so to would the poems of my life.  The more I knew, the more I would appreciate the art form.  The more I read, the more I would understand and honor.  The more I listened, the more I would value and appreciate.

But, that is not so.

The more I poetry on my plate, the more I realize the less I know.

Poetry is a tricky art.  It harnesses the power of words in a unique and indescribable way.  It becomes personal – immediately. It resonates deep within.  It moves.  It enlightens.  It changes. It lasts.  It stupefies.  It means something tomorrow that it did not mean yesterday or today. It solves.  It comforts.  It tends to the mind.

My list includes two poems that I have committed completely to memory, one with easy rhythmic stanzas and one that – at one time in my life – was set to music, which helped me to remember even the challenging lines.  Both lend me direction whenever needed. They are my fall back poems, my refuge and rescue lines.  They can find my peace within.

My list also includes the traditional, Irish/Gaelic Blessing which is written in a plethora of places for a plethora of reasons.  It may be commercially overused, but I don’t care.  It jagged edges fits into my puzzle, so it’s on my list:

May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, And rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of her hand.

Please note – I take natural license with a couple of words here and there, but that’s the great thing about poetry.  It must become your own to be your own.

The end of my list includes an epic poem from Mother Teresa, a work of Shel Silverstein, a selection from Dylan Thomas, and an excerpt from Gwendolyn Brooks.  The very final piece on my list is the Peace Prayer of St. Francis – another much used poem that just seems to say it all to me.

So, there it is. Eight selections.  I hope the poems of my life grows in the future, that the respective meanings change over time, that they become more powerful and meaningful with each reading, and that “the ears of my ears awake and the eyes of my eyes are opened.”

Your list?

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Sometimes even four oranges can be just a little poetic.