The Golden Years

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I look at this photo from someone’s Facebook post, and it reminds me of summer days when I was young.  I can still remember the long process of “washday”, as I helped my mother and grandmother.  First, we washed the clothes in a wringer washer (always being careful to not get my fingers caught in the wringer), and then we rinsed them in the big washtub, once again running them through the wringer and into the wicker basket, ready to be carried up the basement stairs to the clothesline outside.  In all of my memories, the days were lush and warm, as we hung the clothes on the line with wooden clothespins, and the breeze rustled through them.  Once they were dry, we unpinned them from the line, and folded them before placing them back in the basket.  They smelled of fresh air and sunshine, and I loved to bury my face in them, feeling the warmth of the sun in their cloth.  

This was my grandmother’s life, as I saw it; her days spent working along with my mother at household chores, cooking dinner for herself and my grandfather, and spending time with my sister and me.  As she aged, my grandfather died before her, leaving her lonely and confused, stuck in a world which no longer held much pleasure for her, even though she was living with my parents and my sister then.  So my role model for the “golden years” was not a happy one.

In today’s world, though, as I age, a whole new life opens up before me.  Granted, there are the health issues that plague so many of us, but with which we learn to live — taking our medications, visiting our various doctors regularly, and living within our individual limitations.  However, I never realized the pleasures that would accompany these later years — having the time to take care of my grandchildren and to be close to them, becoming an activist for preserving our local history, our forests, open spaces and farmlands, and now, becoming involved with a group working to minimize climate change on a local level.  

I am also fortunate to have good friends, good neighbors, and a large extended family, so life is busy.  Perhaps one of my most treasured gifts in these “golden years” is the friendships — there is something infinitely comforting and reassuring about knowing we have friends to turn to as we face the challenges of growing older.  At this age, we value our friendships more deeply and thankfully.  Whether it be a lunch with one friend, or a gathering of several friends, there is always the time for serious conversations, the sharing of memories, and tremendous amounts of laughter.

Who knows what the future holds, and I may very well end my life in a gradual decline to dementia as did my grandmother, but in the meantime, I am enjoying my life with all of its activities, and spending precious time with my family, and my friends — taking full advantage of these “Golden Years” I am living today.

 

 

Endings and Beginnings

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This last Saturday in December is cloudy and dreary; the Christmas decorations have been tucked away, and 2019 will be here in three days.  It is a good day for introspection — for looking back over the year that is drawing to a close.  For me, 2018 has been a year of both joyous happenings — my daughter’s wedding and the birth of her twins, a beautiful 50th High School Reunion, new & rekindled friendships, a renewed sense of purpose in my historical preservation efforts, precious times spent with my children and grandchildren — and times that have stressed my heart.  I have friends fighting cancer, and one who lost his life to the nasty disease.  One friend is waiting for her son to wake from a coma.  It has been a stressful year for many.

Our nation is going through tumultuous political times, as are many of our allies.  Climate change is taking its toll on our country. with wildfires and floods destroying homes and lives in many areas.  There are strong political divisions, fanned by the internet and 24-hour news channels, which constantly search out the most divisive news stories.

My wish for 2019 is that we would see more thoughtful listening than angry, degrading rhetoric, more compassion, more attempts to find solutions to our problems in a bipartisan manner.

I wish as individuals, we would be quicker to love than to hate, more inclined to compassion and a sense that we are all “in this together,” and that we would all continue to nurture loving relationships with family and friends.  Change can begin from the “bottom up,” and right now, we desperately need change, if we are to pass on a better world to coming generations.

As you raise your glass to the New Year, I hope you will be toasting to more civility and caring in this beautiful world of ours.

Happy New Year

 

 

 

 

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.