Grandmothers – A link to the past

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The most important gift grandmothers give to their grandchildren is unconditional love — the knowledge that each child is loved beyond measure.  The second gift we offer is a bridge to the past for these children.  Their parents are caught up in the job of raising them, providing food, shelter, clothing, love, and a sense of security.  Parents are busy dealing with the present, so it is left up to grandmothers to tell the stories of the past.  We are the ones who talk about the childhood of their parents, who tell them stories about their family history.  We pass down the heirlooms and treasured family items.  We are their link to the quirky ancestors and the family traditions.

Those of us who live near our grandchildren also pass down stories of the history of their town — maybe the house we lived in as children, or the special people and places that were part of our town when we were young.  One of my granddaughters attended the same elementary school I did as a child — how I loved telling her the stories of my years in those very same classrooms, and of the changes that have taken place in what used to be a quiet little rural area.  Across the street from her school, the dairy farm where we could watch them milk the cows is long gone, replaced with a Walmart and Lowe’s.  I can tell her that; she would probably never know what had existed before Walmart was there.  I tell her abut my fourth grade teacher who used to scream and push all of the books off her desk when she got mad at our class.  When we walk on the rail trail near my house, I tell all of them the story of my godfather, who was a brakeman on the railroad that used to run along that trail, and of how he had to lie down on top of a train car when they went under the bridge at the end of our street, a bridge which no longer exists, except for the concrete base hidden in the weeds beside the trail.  They would not know there had been a bridge there if we didn’t walk the trail and talk.

They love to search through the rooms of my old house, pulling out little treasures that they find, and asking questions.  They often go home with one of my old stuffed animals, or a pretty piece of jewelry that belonged to a great-grandmother or aunt.  So much of my home is furnished with family treasures and estate sale finds — we have made a pact that one day they can all come over with stickers and mark the pieces they want when I am gone.  

I believe it is important for children to know about their personal history, and their family history — both the good and the bad.  One day, it may help them to understand themselves a bit better.  And, who better to share the past with them than their grandmother.

Family Comes First

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I have been fortunate in this life that my children, grandchildren, and much extended family live nearby.  This is a blessing.  I have also been fortunate to have many interests and many passions in addition to my beloved family.  Most recently, as anyone who follows my blog knows, I have become seriously involved in efforts to save the history and character of my town.  Throughout the past two years, this has taken a great deal of my time and energy.

However, this past April, my daughter gave birth to premature twins — a boy and a girl — and life as I knew it has changed for awhile.  These precious babies were seven weeks early, so they not only spent time in the NICU, but also required special care when they came home — care that this grandma was only too willing to help with.  They are developing well now, and their mom has had to return to work, so, I share their daily care with their parents and other grandparents, much as I did with my older grandchildren.  I have found that caring for twins is much more difficult than I had expected, and all of us are tired much of the time, especially my daughter and son-in-law, who lovingly keep these little ones safe, well-fed, snuggled, and stocked with special formula, diapers, and all the necessities babies require.  As they gaze into their parents eyes and smile, my heart melts….they already know that they are loved beyond measure.

The end of the school year was filled with school plays, recitals, moving-up ceremonies, and the schedule was a bit crazy.  Then, my oldest granddaughter fell and broke her arm, which shattered her summer plans, so we are trying to keep her as busy as possible — by the time you are eleven years old, you need more stimulation than “hanging” out with grandma for the summer.  

We have also had other new babies in the family, and family celebrations to attend.  It has been a lively and busy summer so far.  Now, my husband has developed a serious bone infection, which has sidetracked him quite a bit, and given me one more consideration as I make my weekly plans.

Just a few short months ago, much of my time was devoted to my historic preservation group and our committee meetings for our upcoming 50th high school reunion in September.  Now, though, I realize how little time I have left each week to devote to these pursuits.  

I have always put my family first, and my own interests second.  Somehow, because of the importance of the preservation issues in our town RIGHT NOW, I have tried to maintain a bit of my responsibilities in this effort, but it is less than I would like.  

Somehow, though, I have always believed that family must come first.  We give birth to a child, and we are responsible for helping them to grow into the best person they can be, and when they are grown, continuing to always be there for support and encouragement as they need it.

And so, I continue on this summer — doing all that I can for my family, as well as staying somewhat involved in my personal passions and responsibilities — still fighting for my beloved community, still working to make this class reunion a special one for all who attend, and squeezing in time for peacefully feeding my birds, tending my haphazard garden, and maintaining the friendships I treasure so much.

Right now, I am immersed in bottles, diapers, singing to fussy babies, falling deeper and deeper in love with toothless grins, and realizing that time passes much too quickly, and it won’t be long before I will be watching their recitals, and their plays, and seeing them head off to Middle School, and realizing that they are no longer “little ones”.

I will forever be grateful that I have put my family first!!!  

 

 

An Afternoon to Myself

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My plan for today was to drive my husband to his father’s house, and return home to rake out some of my gardens.  However, the morning was chill and bleak, and by the time I was driving home, raindrops were gathering on the windshield.  Somehow, I just couldn’t face the physical work of the garden.

The past few months have been filled with busyness — holiday plans, my daughter’s wedding, her baby shower, frequent meetings for committees to which I belong, the chaos of household renovations, time with my grandchildren, the worries typical of a mother watching her own “baby” carrying twins, watching out for a husband with disabilities…the list goes on and on.  As I drove home through the raindrops, I decided my goal for the afternoon was one of peaceful solitude.  I ate a light lunch, sitting in my favorite chair, reading a book as I ate, with a lovely pot of Easter tulips nearby.

The house is quiet, barely a sound reaching through its thick, old walls.  I am a person blessed with a happy spirit, but sometimes the worries and stresses of life are too much with me, and I need time alone — time with no TV blaring, no voices, no questions — nothing but silence.  Some people don’t like to be alone with their thoughts, but I often crave solitude.  When the world gets harried and the people around me need attention and help, I am there in the fray, giving pieces of my heart to whomever needs it at the moment.  My life is full of friends and family that I love and many important commitments.  But, sometimes I reach a breaking point, and I must slow down a bit to regain my sanity.

Since my husband is a TV lover, I often stay up very late at night (the wee hours, I call them), after he has turned off the TV and gone to bed.  Then, the house is quiet, and I can read and write and think in peace.  I look forward to these hours each day.  Today, however, I am so thrilled to have these daylight hours to myself — to recharge a bit, perhaps to read or pray or just sit and ponder.  In an hour or so, I will once again head out in the car to stop for some groceries and to pick up my husband, but I will feel stronger and more at peace with all that lies ahead, because of this precious gift I have had today — a bit of time for myself!!

The Slippery Slope to Losing Our History

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I grew up in Glenmont, NY, a semi-rural community where the milk we drank came from the farm up the street, as did our eggs; our Thanksgiving turkey was fresh from another local farm.  We were free to play in the fields and woods, enjoy the pleasures of fresh air, shade trees and cozy farmhouses.  It was idyllic.  On Sunday we went to church at a large church in Albany.  I loved that church, with its warm wooden, cushioned pews, its beautiful stained glass, and the reverence I felt as I stood before its altar.  However, when I reached my teens, urban revitalization began in our city.  Old homes were being torn down and families displaced, landmarks forever destroyed, and old churches ripped from their foundations in the name of progress — the South Mall was the proposed savior to the blight of all of these old structures.  I remember our minister pleading with officials to save our church — to make it a little sanctuary in the midst of the concrete and glass office buildings.  Alas, he met with no success, and our beautiful old church was wiped from the landscape of the city forever.  This was my first bitter taste of “progress,” and I think of that now each time I look at the cold glass towers that rise from the concrete below.

Since then, I have watched as my childhood fields and trees have been replaced with big box stores, chain restaurants, and housing developments.  Very little has been deemed worth saving — developers have raped our lovely little piece of countryside.  It breaks my heart each time I drive through and remember the natural beauty and old buildings that existed before all of the rampant development.

I have lived across town in Slingerlands since my marriage, in a Victorian house built during the 1890’s, which has been in my husband’s family since 1924.  Several years ago, an area of Slingerlands was designated as a National and State Historic District — quite an honor for those of us who love the rich history of our little hamlet and strongly respect the members of the Slingerland family who contributed so much to our country and our town.  With a few properties now on the market, whose buyers could forever change the character of our town, we have formed the Bethlehem Alliance for Historic and Community Preservation.  We are working diligently to inform the community about the significance of the historic areas of our town, and the impact the sales of these properties could have on our historic landmarks.  We have already lost too much to poorly planned development.  We must work to protect the history that remains in our town. 

We all must remember that when a historic building is demolished or a historic lot developed by a greedy developer, a part of our history is destroyed.  My old church will never exist again, except in the memories of those who loved it.  Too many of the fields and trees of my childhood neighborhood are now paved over with blacktop parking lots and filled with stores and gas stations and banks.   The lovely Victorian home of one of our founding fathers, William H. Slingerland, was demolished several years ago and is gone forever from our historic district.

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We all have the power to fight for our history.  It just takes time, determination, and a respect for its value.  Wherever you live in the vast country of ours, look around at the history in your community and decide if you choose to fight for its survival.

 

 

To Declutter or Not

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I love my old Victorian house, but, unfortunately, its nooks and crannies provide wonderful homes for all sorts of clutter.  Of course, to me, it isn’t clutter — it is a compilation of pieces of my life.  The other day, I saw an article called the “40-day Challenge”, a method of painlessly cleaning out the unnecessary items in your home.  Each day for forty days, you take a bag and fill it with items you no longer use or need, and throw it out.  In forty days, you have thrown out forty bags filled with those things that clutter your home.  And I innocently thought, “Wow, I can do that!”  

And I have intended to begin, but as I look through my home, I realize that part of the reason I have so much clutter is because I have so many interests that require storage space.  I can’t bear to throw out any of my beloved books; the many vases and floral tools I have collected are called into service periodically.  I have a trunk filled with genealogical research, totes of sewing material and necessities, family heirlooms to pass down to my children and grandchildren, baby items I am thankful I saved as we await the birth of my daughter’s twins, children’s books and craft materials that my grandchildren still play with, kitchen cabinets overflowing with soup pots, cake pans, pie plates, casseroles, and recipe books, a trunk of journals….

Obviously, there are things I can throw out as I tackle this “40-day Challenge”, but it will not be as simple a project as I had hoped.  As I go through my nooks and crannies, I pause to recapture the memories that accompany these items I am about to throw away.  How do you throw out pictures drawn by your children and grandchildren, cards from relatives no longer with us, and the photos that abound.  Most of the items I have saved have either sentimental value for me, or possibly material value for my heirs.  A bookcase is filled with the teddy bears lovingly collected by my deceased mother and sister, and I have quite a collection of my own bears.  Through the years I entertained often, and I have beautiful china and serving pieces that I still use — no longer for huge family dinners, but for smaller, more intimate meals with friends and relatives.  

And I can’t forget the garden shed, which holds my gardening tools, my old wicker, and my lawn ornaments.  How could I possibly throw out that little garden angel with the broken nose, or the pots that may be just the perfect size for a new plant this year or next?  And I’m sure I can find some use for that old wicker chair whose seat is falling out.

I have made a promise to myself, though, that I will do the challenge, and, perhaps, extend it past forty days.  I will begin to declutter, and a bag a day should be a possibility.  I will begin with clothes, because you can fill a bag quickly with clothes, and I must admit, I have many old clothes in the closet which I will NEVER wear.  From there, I will sort through the paperwork in my little office — file cabinets filled to the brim — and throw away anything that is no longer necessary to keep.  I will sort through boxes of old papers and manuals for appliances I no longer have — that should be easy.  

I will linger, though, over all of the rest — all of the pieces of my life that have held so much pleasure and meaning for me through the years, the pieces that bring memories of my grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren, and the pieces that remind me of my deepest secrets and longings — I’m sure there is a nook or cranny for each of them somewhere. 

Why I Post Photos of Old Houses

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As my family gathered at Christmas and conversation flowed, one of my children made a remark about me “always posting photos of old houses.”  Of course, it started me thinking, and when I think who knows where it will lead.  The actual reason I have been posting these photos is because I am part of a local group working to preserve the historic buildings and open lands in our town.  A simple enough answer to the “WHY” of what I do.

As my thoughts progressed along these lines, I also realized that many of the people I know who are in historical associations or trying to preserve local history are older women.  When we started our group last year, it was a simple matter of trying to prevent a developer from building an apartment complex and commercial space in the heart of our historic district.  There were many younger men and women involved in this group at the time, but somehow, their participation dwindled as time went on — most likely because they have young families and jobs that don’t allow them the available time we older women have.  During the year, we have expanded our efforts to include our entire town, rather than simply our small historic district.  Our most important source of workers for our projects is older women.

I believe women tend to be the “keepers” of family and local history.  Grandmothers are usually the ones who pass on the family stories and hold in safe-keeping the family treasures and genealogy.  We have a tendency to hold the past in trust for our children and grandchildren.  Thus, it is natural for women to feel the responsibility to preserve the history of our town.  We can remember it as it was, and see the vast changes that have taken place in the name of progress.  Change can be healthy, and economic development is essential to a town’s survival, but someone must be protecting the history and character of the town at the same time.  There must be a balance, and older women have the time and the knowledge to help maintain this balance.  

We are not women who will be easily fooled by developers who come in with great plans and promises.  We have seen the results over time — the poorly designed commercial areas and housing developments.  We’ve seen historic buildings destroyed in the name of progress.  We are the “keepers of the flame”, as women have been through the centuries, and right now, we will work to preserve the interesting history of our community, and if it involves the posting of photos of old houses on social media, so be it.  The character of our town is at stake.